By EVELYN TAYLOR-MCGREGOR ’16
According to a recent article in Bloomberg titled “Later Baby: Will Freezing Your Eggs Free Your Career?” and many egg freezing advocates, egg freezing is the best thing to happen for women’s reproductive empowerment since the birth control pill. The argument Bloomberg and many women profess is that egg freezing provides women, primarily women with demanding careers, with the choice to have children whenever they want without the pressure of their “biological clock.” Women with high-powered careers can find themselves in their late thirties with no partner, a dwindling supply of eggs and an abundance of capital to spend on egg extraction and freezing. The pro-egg freezing argument suggests that egg freezing technology is the newest tool to help women “have it all,” the classic phrase that implies much more about what women can’t have: a career and a family without planning, sacrifice and now, medical procedures.
Egg freezing does provide important reproductive opportunities for women, if done safely. In many ways, egg freezing does belong with other technologies that open up more reproductive choices for women such as birth control and abortion. If egg extraction is shown to be safe and if the risks are clearly explained to women, it can be used as a powerful tool for women to control and time their fertility.
However, women’s empowerment should not be contingent on dangerous and costly medical procedures. Women’s inability to “have it all” is a social problem and should be treated as such, rather than an inherent biological problem to be remedied using dangerous procedures.
Groups and individuals interested in women’s career and reproductive empowerment should maintain their focus on changing social norms to support a parent-friendly working culture and and legislation to provide paid maternity — and paternity — leave.
One drug used in egg extraction, Lupron, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for treatment of endometriosis and fibroid-associated anemia, not for egg extraction. Lupron has been shown to increase the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome along with a variety of other side effects. Currently, women undergoing egg extraction, a necessary precursor to egg freezing, are often unaware that the drugs are unregulated, unapproved and notably under-researched. Additionally, the egg extraction process is painful and requires a long recovery period. Claiming that egg extraction is liberating ignores the known and unknown health risks associated with the drugs used and discredits the importance of informed consent of medical procedures.
Egg extraction is not only physically taxing but financially taxing as well. Egg extraction and freezing cost between $5,000 to $15,000 dollars, and many women go through numerous rounds of extraction. Any claim that egg freezing empowers women only applies to rich women and ignores the career challenges of women who do not have sufficient savings to spend thousands on egg freezing.
The assertion that egg freezing liberates women from having to choose between a career and a family is patently false. Presenting egg freezing as a way for women to have what men have always had, a career and a family, is yet another example of a social problem falling on women’s bodies.
The incentive for egg freezing is often a result of a social problem. The United States is one of four countries in the world that do not require any paid maternity leave on the federal level, let alone paternity leave. Few states offer extended unpaid leave or have fewer requirements for unpaid leave, and even fewer require paid maternity leave. The corporate work environment in the United States often requires women to work inflexible hours and overtime. Additionally, women with children are perceived as less committed to their jobs, while men with children are not. There are countless barriers for women with children in the workplace, all of which are social. If the U.S. workplace was more accepting of working mothers and accommodating of parents, women might not have to choose between a career and a family. Egg freezing is a response to a hostile work environment for working mothers and strives to solve a deeply social problem with scientific advancements rather than social change.
Egg freezing technology can be a valuable tool for many women if done safely, but it is a terrible primary method to empower women’s careers. When used this way, egg freezing falls into a long history of women being compelled to resort to medical procedures, incur costs to their health and bodies and make unreasonable sacrifice in order to “have it all.” Egg freezing is not the solution to working women’s problems.