Report: Egg-Freezing May Actually Be Reducing Women’s Reproductive Control
By Lila Sahija
Fertility technology has opened avenues to women that weren’t previously available, leading to increased choice, autonomy, and empowerment for women around childbearing… Or has it? A new report in the journal Just Reproduction, “Freezing Eggs and Creating Patients: Moral Risks of Commercialized Fertility,” questions the assumption that more choices have necessarily lead to more power and control.
Specifically, the report questions the rapid rise of egg-freezing as a viable and effective option for extending or delaying fertility. While this technology may at first glance give the appearance of providing women with an additional fertility choice, the authors argue it may be limiting women’s control and autonomy for two reasons.
First, the highly commercial nature of the therapy is controversial. Egg-freezing is an enormously expensive endeavour, and is usually marketed to women as a way to extend their fertile years and fertility options. However, the authors argue, many doctors and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) have questioned these tactics, warning that women are not being told about the many risks associated with the procedure, and most importantly, they are not being told just how low the chances of it resulting in a live birth are. In providers’ efforts to market an (ineffective) reproductive time machine to women, egg-freezing companies may actually be restricting their choices.
Similarly, the public fascination with this process may also be restricting women’s reproductive choices in the ways that it reframes their decisions about childbirth. With the availability of egg-freezing, companies are offering women “career track,” all-expenses-paid trajectories that necessarily rely on the feasibility of the technology. However, this availability is reframing the way that companies — and working women — think about their opportunities in the workplace if they do decide to have children. And so their choices are being limited in an unexpected way.
The authors argue that “in many cases, being presented with the ‘option’ of egg freezing can compromise reproductive autonomy.” To truly improve women’s reproductive autonomy, they argue, women must be informed of all their fertility options, along with their relative success rates and risks, and free from aggressive marketing. Only then can they truly benefit from the leaps that modern reproductive medicine has made.
Across cultures, the pressure on women to procreate is enormous. And if they prioritize other life events over child-bearing, the pressures can be far worse. One of the most important steps towards true gender parity is the unfettered access to information about contraception, fertility, and the various options women have for controlling whether and when they have babies. All the technological advances in the world won’t help if the true risks and implications are being withheld from women who need them to make empowered choices.