A delegate to China’s top political advisory body proposed a law to allow unmarried women access to reproductive health care such as in vitro fertilization and egg freezing.
If passed, the new rule will overturn existing laws that ban unmarried women and couples who exceed the legal limit of children from using assisted reproductive technology at the country’s hospitals. There are no laws that restrict men from freezing their sperm.
The fight to expand reproductive rights for women have been ongoing for years and became especially powerful after China abolished its one-child policy in 2015. Conversations around unmarried women’s right to freeze their eggs came into the spotlight after a woman first sued in December 2019.
Teresa Xu, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, sued a Beijing hospital after doctors refused to help her freeze her eggs because she could not produce a marriage certificate. The current policies fail to keep up with the times, according to Xu.
“Updating the policies is long overdue and they do not reflect the changing times,” Xu wrote.
Xu sued the hospital on the basis of “infringement of an individual’s rights,” arguing that the policy diminishes the reproductive rights to which a woman is entitled. While the suit is unlikely to succeed given the hospital was only following rules made by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the public attention is bringing issues of gender equality for the forefront.
“It’s already half the battle to be able to take the case to court and be at the center of public attention,” Xu’s lawyer said.
Peng Jing, the delegate who proposed the change, argued that it was necessary to uphold the principle of gender equality, a principle the CCP claims to be built upon. She also points out that the lack of legal services can lead to patients turning to illegal clinics, which cause elevated health risks.
Women’s reproductive rights activists have welcomed the proposal and optimistic for the incremental changes it can bring. Zhan Yingying, a reproductive rights advocate, is eager to see government’s response.
“I think there will be some changes, maybe it won’t come at once, but we’re seeing how we are gradually influencing them,” Zhan said.
Sources: South China Morning Post 05/22/20; South China Morning Post 12/23/19; Above the Law 01/15/20