Australian court OKs fertility treatment for single women, lesbians

CANBERRA, Australia - The High Court unanimously rejected Thursday a Catholic Church bid to ban single women and lesbians from having babies through fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A panel of seven judges dismissed a suit brought by the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference to prevent a single woman, Leesa Meldrum, from undergoing IVF treatment in Victoria, the second most populous state.

Meldrum, 40, wept as the ruling was delivered.

"It's not just a victory for me. It's a victory for women all over Australia," she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Two years ago, Meldrum won a case in a lower federal court where she challenged a Victorian state law that banned single women and lesbians from IVF treatment and artificial insemination.

The federal court ruled that the state law contradicted federal law against sexual discrimination. Federal law prevails when it conflicts with state law.

The Catholic Church, supported by Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government, sought to overturn that judgment and filed a case with the High Court, Australia's paramount legal tribunal.

On Thursday, the High Court rejected the Catholic appeal on procedural grounds. The judges ruled they could not uphold the bishop's challenge because the church had not been involved in Meldrum's earlier Federal Court action.

Church spokesman Warwick Neville said the decision had not addressed the key issue of the rights of children.