Teresa Xu says doctor told her to hurry up and get married before having children
At the end of last year, Teresa Xu visited a hospital in Beijing to discuss options for freezing her eggs. The doctor said she could not help Xu, a single woman, because it went against regulations. Then she gave the 31-year-old some sisterly advice: hurry up, get married and have children now.
Xu was shocked and disappointed. I had no way to express my anger, she said. She felt like she was being treated like a wayward child. Like I was an intruder, delaying other couples like my demands were too much. I felt powerless and depressed.
After a few months, Xu decided to push back. On Monday, she took the Beijing Obstetrics and Gynaecology hospital to court in what is the first case of its kind in China. She alleges that the hospital, by refusing to freeze her eggs, violated her personal rights.
Xus case has prompted a nationwide debate about the reproductive rights of single women in China, where women are increasingly marrying later or not at all.
After decades of restricting many families to only one child, China now allows all couples to have two children, but the loosened restrictions do not apply to single women. According to Chinese health regulations on human assisted reproduction, only married couples are eligible for such services, which include access to sperm banks as well as freezing ones eggs.
Single women typically go overseas for the procedure, which costs between $10,000 and $18,000. Others use underground agents. Ctrip, a Chinese travel booking website, last year began offering some of its employees financial aid to travel overseas to freeze their eggs.
But Xu did not want to go abroad to seek what she sees as a basic right. Before going to Beijing Obstetrics and Gynaecology hospital, Xu was refused by at least three other hospitals. Her lawsuit was also turned down three times.
Whether I choose to have a child or not, I should have the right to choose, she said. Many women dont know that they can freeze their eggs. When their own childbearing pressure and workplace pressure overlap, they may not know there is a way to solve the problem.
Most of the time, they choose having a child under great pressure. When they choose their career they bear a lot of criticism from society and their family.
News of Xus lawsuit has spread quickly across Chinese media. When she went to the first hearing of her case on Monday, to be continued in the new year, she was surrounded by Chinese reporters. By the next day, a hashtag related to her case had almost 9 million views and thousands of comments on Weibo.
Many questioned why single men were able to freeze their sperm without question. Married women must also show documentation of their marriage and proof of their eligibility to give birth under family planning rules. According to local media, some hospitals require women to have their husbands consent.
This is gender inequality, one user on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, said. The freedom of birth is the most basic right of women, another wrote. A prominent columnist, Hong Huang wrote on her Weibo account: Support single women freezing their eggs.
Legal experts and advocates say they do not have high hopes Xu will win her lawsuit but the publicity and fact her case was accepted by the courts is already a win.
There has never been this much attention to this issue, said Dong Xiaoying, an activist based in Guangzhou who has been pushing to overturn the prohibition on single women receiving reproductive assistance. I think its great progress. No matter the result, its a good thing, she said.
Xus lawsuit has also inspired criticism. During her hearing, a lawyer for the hospital defended the policy saying that allowing single women to freeze their eggs would further delay childbirth, contributing to Chinas already low birthrate, or increase the age gap between parents and children.
Xu says she realises that Chinese women face an uphill battle, after decades of restrictive family planning policies. Still, she is encouraged by the women who have got in touch to say they identify with her situation.
So many things are suppressed. People cant feel, cant imagine and dont realise what personal freedoms women can have, she said. I hope we can create a new model or image of single women who want to have children.
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang