A single Chinese woman has gone to court challenging rules that forbid unmarried women from freezing their eggs, in the first case of its kind in the country.
Teresa Xu, 31, said she was prompted to take legal action after a Beijing hospital declined to freeze her eggs last year, and instead told her to “get married and have a child soon”.
“There is a huge demand among young women in China – whether married or single – to freeze their eggs as they delay the decision to have a child,” Xu told AFP news agency on Wednesday.
“But clinics refuse single women, because of unfair laws.”
Chinese regulations forbid unmarried women from freezing their eggs unless they have a medical reason, such as cancer.
A Beijing court on Monday agreed to hear Xu’s case against the hospital, nearly six months after it was filed.
Xu, who works as a freelance editor, said she had also written to a member of China’s parliament, hoping that the issue of reproductive restrictions faced by unmarried women could be raised when the legislature meets in March.
Xu visited the Beijing Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital at Capital Medical University in November 2018, wanting to freeze her eggs while she focused on her career as a writer on gender issues.
But the doctor asked about her marital status and urged her to have a child instead of freezing her eggs. Upon her second visit, the doctor said she could not go any further in the process.
When asked by Reuters news agency to comment, the hospital declined, saying it could not speak to international media.
China’s rapid economic growth has created the conditions for single women to become financially independent, but the country’s policies and medical industry have not necessarily kept pace.
Single women in China are also largely barred from accessing assisted reproductive technologies including in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment or sperm banks.
The restrictions hark back to a time when the Communist party attempted to strictly control population growth with its one-child policy.
The Chinese government has attempted to boost birth rates in recent years, allowing all couples to have two children from 2016, but single mothers still face discrimination and legal hurdles when attempting to register a birth.
“This is a systemic issue because the system has brought this difficult position for single women,” Xu said.
Monday’s closed-door hearing lasted for about an hour, according to a statement on the official social media account of Beijing Chaoyang People’s Court.
Xu said her case was expected to go on for several months.
“I personally feel that being able to arrive at this stage is already a sort of win,” she said.
“I didn’t feel like I was at court as an individual. I felt I was standing there with the weight of many other single women’s expectations.”
A woman’s eggs deteriorate in quality as she ages, presenting obstacles to conception among older women. Through a medical procedure, a woman’s eggs can be removed from her ovaries and frozen for use at a later time.