China’s fertility treatment rules push single women to Hong Kong

The primary journey Sophia made after Beijing reopened its borders this 12 months was to a clinic in Hong Kong to freeze her eggs. The process, together with different fertility therapies, is simply obtainable in mainland China to married ladies.

“In the course of the lockdowns, I felt very lonely for the primary time in my life. I realised I is perhaps single ceaselessly and wanted to plan my life. Even when I don’t discover a associate, I’m certain I wish to have a baby,” stated the 34-year-old tech employee from Shenzhen, one in every of many ladies to go to a clinic within the Chinese language territory seeking fertility therapy.

China faces a bleak demographic outlook because the working-age inhabitants shrinks and the variety of retirees balloons. Final 12 months, the nation’s whole headcount fell by 850,000 folks to 1.41bn as deaths outstripped births for the primary time, a pattern that has pushed policymakers to introduce measures to spice up fertility equivalent to money handouts for {couples} with a couple of little one.

Some argue that larger entry to fertility therapies, equivalent to egg freezing and in vitro fertilisation (IVF), may increase the delivery price by enabling older ladies to have kids.

However Beijing has lengthy banned entry to egg freezing or IVF for single ladies. Whereas single males can freeze their sperm, single ladies equivalent to Sophia, who declined to provide her surname, aren’t allowed to freeze their eggs.

Throughout this month’s assembly of the nation’s prime policymakers, one delegate, a gynaecologist, prompt altering the rule, however the proposal will not be anticipated to realize traction.

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Single moms have lengthy been stigmatised in Chinese language tradition and by a communist occasion eager to advertise the nuclear household. Till not too long ago, single moms have been unable to incorporate their kids of their family registration, a important step to unlocking entry to advantages.

China’s prime well being official has stated egg freezing creates an incentive to delay being pregnant, arguing for proscribing entry to the process. “Permitting single ladies to freeze their eggs may delay the reproductive age, which isn’t good for the well being of the lady or offspring,” stated the Nationwide Well being Fee (NHC) in response to requires the process to be made accessible for single ladies.

However medical specialists cite different components, equivalent to the need to pursue schooling or skilled objectives or meet an acceptable associate, and reject the concept that ladies who freeze their eggs delay being pregnant.

“There isn’t any proof to point out that ladies delay having kids due to the supply of egg freezing. They delay being pregnant for socio-economic and psychological causes,” stated Lucy Lord, an obstetrician and gynaecologist primarily based in Hong Kong.

An official on the Guangdong workplace of the NHC stated legalising egg freezing for single ladies could be “tough for the federal government” because it “subverts conventional ideas on fertility and household construction”.

Consequently, increasingly more Chinese language ladies journey overseas for the process, with Hong Kong a prime vacation spot given its proximity and robust healthcare system.

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The Instagram-like Chinese language social media app Xiaohongshu is full of suggestions for the very best clinics within the metropolis. There are about 20 licensed fertility clinics in Hong Kong.

One administrator at a Hong Kong fertility clinic concentrating on mainland shoppers stated they’d seen a surge in demand after Beijing shed its border controls. Appointments are booked for subsequent month, and the administrator stated the “wait may very well be even longer as we’re seeing an uptick in appointments”.

Hong Kong fertility clinics cost between HK$80,000 and HK$100,000 (US$10,000-US$13,000) for one spherical of egg freezing. IVF success charges fluctuate broadly in line with age. About one-third of girls below the age of 35 change into pregnant after IVF, in line with UK figures. Lord added that egg freezing was not a “fail-safe possibility” since it’s “tougher to get pregnant with a frozen egg”.

Whereas it’s attainable for single or homosexual ladies to freeze their eggs in Hong Kong, solely married heterosexual {couples} can entry IVF therapy. In apply, which means eggs are saved till ladies get married and start the IVF course of.

For some, one other barrier to therapy is the price of travelling to Hong Kong. Si Ma, an workplace employee in her mid-30s in Chengdu, opted to endure the preliminary phases of IVF therapy at an unlawful “underground clinic” in style with the town’s queer group.

Si Ma, who’s bisexual, was launched to the clinic by a pal. “That is unlawful for single folks like me,” she stated. “There are many LGBT individuals who flip to underground clinics or go abroad. The market is far greater than I assumed.”

Lü Pin, a Chinese language feminist activist primarily based in New York, is sceptical that China’s coverage will change, saying there’s an ingrained resistance in opposition to giving ladies “reproductive autonomy”. “This coverage is finally about controlling ladies’s our bodies,” she stated.

Further reporting by Xueqiao Wang in Shanghai

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