The suspension of fertility treatment is an all too real tragedy for many couples | Barbara Ellen | Opinion

Don’t we owe it to those desperate for IVF treatment not to fall for the persistent spoilt/demanding female infertility narrative? Along with myriad NHS procedures, fertility treatment has been deemed “non-essential” during the pandemic. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority announced that it was suspended until further notice – affecting not just new patients but those in the middle of treatment.

In response, IVF patients talked about their distress at the decision. The years trying to conceive and of waiting for treatment. Painful injections. Hormonal rollercoasters. Failed attempts. The physical, psychological and emotional toll. Anxiety that funding could be withdrawn. For some, the hopelessness about time running out, particularly for women over 40. As harrowing as the accounts were, they were also instructive: contrary to certain stereotypes peddled over the years, there was nothing entitled or presumptuous about these women.

Everyone understands the terrible impact that coronavirus is having on the NHS, including for cancer patients. However, this shouldn’t cancel our sympathy for those devastated by the suspension of IVF, some of whom may be feeling that they’re at the fertility last-chance saloon. Is it possible for the rest of us to understand what they’re going through? Perhaps not. Those who’ve never experienced such problems may find the world of the non-fertile too dark and confusing to comprehend.

It doesn’t help that, for decades, unshakeable narratives implanted themselves in the collective psyche: the central casting career bitch who put professional ambition first; the flaky party girl too busy having fun to heed the ticking of her biological clock; women who, for years, for whatever reason, “squandered” their fertility, but who now, like an IVF-themed Veruca Salt, stamp spoilt feet and demand that science sorts everything out: “I’ve had the big jobs, the flashy lifestyle, the fun and I want babies… NOW!”

I’ve long doubted that such women exist. Anyone I’ve come across with fertility problems seems to be everything from exhausted, embarrassed and wistful to sad, resigned and broke, sometimes all these things. And that’s just the women. Indeed, as much as the cliches about infertile woman are cruel and sexist, they’re also inaccurate and simplistic. There are many causes of infertility – it’s not always about the woman “leaving it too late”; it’s not even always about the woman. Yet still, women are usually the ones who bear the brunt of societal censure, who, on some primal level, are deemed to be righteously punished (by mother nature, no less!) for presumed insubordination.

What medieval phooey! Whatever happens next, in these uncertain times, however long it takes for fertility treatments to get back up and running, let’s finally dispense with the creaking narrative that women wanting babies automatically equates with “spoilt women demanding them”. Let’s try having a little sympathy for those for whom fertility treatment is anything but “non-essential”.

I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need the truth

Emily Maitlis

Emily Maitlis was top of the interruption league, with one every 28 seconds. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Have modern Britons really become so hypersensitive that they recoil from interruptions when watching or listening to political interviews? Richard Frediani, editor of BBC Breakfast, says internal research showed that people have tired of the aggressive “Gotcha!” type interview popularised by the likes of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys. Now Emily Maitlis is top of the interruption league (on average every 28 seconds), with Mishal Husain in second place (every 46 seconds). Still, isn’t this often the nature of the game?

I understand how “softer” interviews sometimes reveal more about character, but let’s not turn this into a valid reason for, say, Boris Johnson’s post-election boycott of Radio 4’s Today programme. Or, indeed, Johnson’s infamous dodging of Andrew Neil in the run-up to the election.

However, it’s not just Johnson. As a breed, political interviewees are skilled and determined time wasters, who often have a highly rehearsed spiel designed to deflect and repel serious investigation of shortcomings. It’s the job – nay, the duty – of the interviewer to crack through that, not to be aggressive, but to stop them waffling through their own buzzword-strewn agenda.

If this is irritating and jarring for listeners or viewers, it should be acknowledged that it’s at least 50% the stonewalling interviewee’s fault. It may come as news to some, but politicians aren’t always desperately trying to deliver facts and truth – they’re often desperately trying not to. Add time constraints and there’s your explanation for more aggressive interviews.

Even in the celebrity arena, the journalist often has to “cajole” interviewees away from charming but deadly dull chat about wonderful co-stars or dazzling film locations into more interesting territory. For political interrogators on television and radio, the stakes are higher and time even shorter. As far as I’m concerned, they can interrupt all they like.

A vote for photo ID is a victory for discrimination

A voter carries his passport in May 2018 en route to a polling station in Knaphill, part of Woking borough, one of five councils that trialled photo IDs in polling stations.

A voter carries his passport in May 2018 en route to a polling station in Knaphill, part of Woking borough, one of five councils that trialled photo IDs in polling stations. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

How concerned should Britain be about voter fraud – worried enough to bring in new measures that prevent groups of people from actually voting? Community activist Neil Coughlan continues to appeal against the high court’s rejection of his claim that pilot schemes requiring voters to produce photo ID at polling stations are undemocratic and unlawful. Coughlan’s local authority, Braintree in Essex, was one of the areas where the photo ID scheme was trialled in last May’s local elections. However, some people don’t possess photo ID or may not be able to find it in time to vote. Moreover, apart from Northern Ireland, voter fraud is extremely rare in the UK: in one survey, 99% of polling station officials had no suspicions of anyone impersonating another person to steal their vote.

As Coughlan says, the Windrush scandal showed that many legitimate British citizens don’t possess official documentation, while 3.5 million people don’t have photo ID. To my mind, it’s sensible to be wary of anything that obstructs specific groups from voting – for instance (just off the top of my head), poorer people who might not vote Conservative. Then again, what possible justification could there be for obstructing any group? There would appear to be more than one form of electoral fraud.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist

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