The fallout from China’s long-standing human rights abuses in regards to fertility and childbearing has led Chinese women to pursue artificial reproductive technologies rife with physical risks and ethical issues. For the first time in Chinese history, a Beijing court heard the case of an unmarried woman seeking legal approval to freeze her eggs.
Teresa Xu, now 33, originally visited Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, which is affiliated with Capital Medical University, back in November of 2018, seeking to freeze her eggs. Her request was countered by a doctor who both encouraged her to have a child and asked to see her marriage license. In China, access to fertility treatments and benefits is limited to married women. After learning that Xu was unmarried, the hospital informed her that she did not qualify for fertility services under the law. Xu proceeded to sue the hospital, alleging discrimination against single women.
After seeking a hearing from three different courts in Beijing, Xu formally stated her case in December of 2019 and is awaiting her second hearing. The fate of Xu’s case remains to be seen, though a 2019 New York Times article quoted a Shanghai lawyer who believed Xu was unlikely to win.
China is facing a demographic crisis after years of coercive population control measures, most notably its draconian one-child policy and forced abortion. The one-child policy was “expanded” to two children in 2015, and Chinese couples are now “allowed” to have three children. Additionally, fines on unmarried women who bear children have allegedly been abolished. But the damage has already been done. As China’s elderly population swells, its birth rate has fallen every single year since 2016. The 12 million babies born in 2020 represented an 18% drop from just one year prior when 14.6 million children were born.
Xu and her lawyer seek to capitalize on the fact that the country’s own measures to reverse its demographic decline have been resoundingly ineffective by all objective measures.
Furthermore, egg freezing is just one among several artificial reproductive technologies which all potentially treat the woman’s body as a machine to be manipulated and her children as products. When companies like Facebook and Apple start subsidizing egg freezing for employees, women have every reason to follow the money trail to see what’s in it for corporations when they choose to promote a delay in childbearing — namely, the corporation believes it gets more ‘productive’ years out of a woman who is not also a mother. And, according to The Hastings Center, multiple studies have found that egg freezing companies in the United States marketed advertising content to potential clients that “could be considered unethical, misleading, deceptive, and/or unfair.”
Common fertility industry practices frequently commodify children, especially when it comes to the ‘leftover’ embryos from in vitro fertilization, who are vulnerable to abandonment, selective reduction, and eugenic screening practices that weed out genetically “inferior” babies in their earliest developmental stage.
Ultimately, Xu’s story is one among millions to arise out of the disastrous fallout from China’s one-child policy and other policies that penalized childbearing. Sadly, counteracting the difficult demographic consequences of those abusive policies is leading women to consider artificial reproductive technologies which carry problems of their own.
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