wechat_bg

2020-05-26 11:11:04

A motion that would effectively keep single women from having their eggs frozen has sparked intense discussion after being put forward at China’s congressional meetings.

Sun Wei, a fertility doctor in the eastern Shandong province and a delegate of the National People’s Congress, proposed the motion Monday during the ongoing “two sessions” — high-profile meetings of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies — in Beijing. According to the motion, hospitals would be barred from providing egg-freezing services to single women.

Under current Chinese law, married women can have their eggs frozen while unmarried women cannot. It is unclear why Sun is backing a policy that would seem to have no effect on the status quo.

Sun told Sixth Tone’s sister publication the Paper that women seeking to freeze their eggs are required to take extra doses of hormones, potentially causing serious health conditions such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or ascites — an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. She added that allowing single women to freeze their eggs might put added strain on China’s medical system, or create a black market of single women selling their eggs or surrogacy services to couples desperate for children.

“I don’t recommend that women who simply want to delay childbearing freeze their eggs,” said Sun, who would instead encourage couples to marry and have children while they’re young.

Under China’s assisted reproduction law, egg-freezing services are only available to women who can provide a valid marriage license and family planning permit — official documents unmarried women cannot obtain.

In 2019, health authorities in the central Hubei province investigated a hospital in Wuhan that had been providing illegal egg-freezing services to single women.

In recent years, activists and academics have been fighting continuously to guarantee equal reproductive rights for single women — and that fight has become easier, by degrees, thanks to shifting public attitudes toward marriage and childbearing.

In an online poll conducted by The Beijing News, nearly two-thirds of 66,000 respondents said they supported single women having the choice to freeze their eggs, while 32% said they were either unsure of or opposed to the idea.

Sun’s motion has triggered wide public discussion online, with a related hashtag viewed nearly 700 million times on microblogging platform Weibo by Tuesday evening.

“Why would I need someone else’s permission to make a choice about my own body?” one Weibo user commented under a related media post, receiving over 136,000 likes.

“Why are men allowed to freeze their sperm when women cannot freeze their eggs? This is so unfair,” read the most upvoted comment under the same post, referring to the fact that single men face no such hurdles.

Meanwhile, as Sun’s motion was turning heads among the National People’s Congress, the opposite of her proposal was being put forward in the other half of the “two sessions.”

Peng Jing, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said as early as last week that she would propose legalizing single women’s access to assisted reproductive technology, including freezing their eggs. With an increasing number of women in China focusing on their careers and delaying marriage, taking away their reproductive rights could deprive them of having kids, Peng said.

Rebutting Sun’s assertion that letting single women freeze their eggs might create a black market, Peng argued that such a market would be far more likely to exist if the opposite scenario were true.

In December, a 31-year-old woman who asked to be identified as Xu Zaozao filed a landmark lawsuit against a Beijing hospital that she said refused to provide egg-freezing services because she was single. She is still waiting for the second hearing after the court delayed its verdict.

“Every medical procedure has its risks,” Xu told Sixth Tone on Tuesday, adding that authorities should conduct further research and strictly supervise surrogacy instead of enforcing bans on single women. “The important thing is to give patients all the information they need rather than take away their right to make such decisions.”

Before her lawsuit last year, Xu sent letters to 63 NPC delegates asking them to take up her cause, though none responded. She said she’s not concerned about Sun’s motion negatively impacting her lawsuit.

“Single women having the right to freeze their eggs is a global trend, and I think China will not be the exception,” she said.

In a media interview Tuesday, the lawmaker Sun said she did not wish to restrict people’s freedoms or basic rights; instead, she reiterated that women should be starting families early.

“I only want to let them know that freezing their eggs is not the best way,” she told The Beijing News. “The best way is to find a boyfriend early, get married, and have babies young.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Shijue/People Visual)