This is the woman who is suing a Beijing hospital after it denied her access to egg freezing technology because she was not married.
Teresa Xu, 32, launched China’s first legal case of a woman fighting for her reproductive rights when she took Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital to court on 23rd December 2019.
What began as one woman’s battle to freeze her eggs has now become a symbolic fight for gender equality and the right to autonomy over one’s own body.
Her second court hearing has been delayed due to the pandemic, but she has spent the intervening months gathering further information to strengthen her case, including testimony from health and sociology experts.
She told Asia Wire in an exclusive interview: “This is about society’s impressions and expectations of single women.
“Even if I eventually lose the court case, I will have already started a nationwide conversation and helped countless other single women like me to be heard.”
Ms Xu first understood the obstacles of what she was trying to achieve when she visited Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital at Capital Medical University on 10th December 2018.
Unmarried, and aware that the quality of her eggs would deteriorate as she ages, she chose to have her eggs frozen so she could focus on her career and potentially have children later in life.
But the hospital consultant enquired about her marital status and advised her to marry early and have children instead, before she was informed of a government regulation which bars single women from accessing egg-freezing services.
Ms Xu, from the province of Heilongjiang in north-eastern China, said: “Oddly, similar restrictions do not apply to men and freezing sperm.
“The regulation permits the use of sperm banks as a form of long-term fertility and posterity guarantee, which is precisely what I want for myself.
“When this all started, when I was refused egg-freezing services at the hospital, I felt like I was at my absolute lowest point.
“Then I felt such encouragement in December during my first court appearance, but then single women – including some who had already frozen their eggs abroad – spurred me on and told me they were following my case.
“It started as a one-woman mission, but since it resonated with so many others, it suddenly became very meaningful, like I had a responsibility to do this for every single woman.
“I no longer felt alone. I was nervous, but there was also an overwhelming sense of responsibility.”
Ms Xu said she first learned of the possibility of egg preservation when Chinese actress Xu Jinglei made a bombshell announcement in 2015 revealing she had had her eggs frozen in the United States two years earlier at the age of 40.
She added: “As an older single woman, she was like a role model.
“To me, her decision seemed to be that of an independent woman.”
Having studied the specific regulation more closely with her lawyer, Ms Xu said she believes the clause was not intended to curtail personal rights, but rather to regulate medical facilities.
She said: “It might have been because of cultural values and concerns over single parenthood, or simply because China lacked the overall technical expertise to allow the widespread provision of egg freezing.
“But at the same time there is a huge demand, which has led some to turn to underground so-called black markets, or seek services abroad.
“I want to be able to access the same services here in China without paying exorbitant fees in other countries. I can’t afford that.”
Ms Xu said intermediary agencies have quoted her rates of 100,000 RMB (11,440 GBP) for egg-freezing ‘packages’ in Thailand, while a similar all-inclusive procedure in the US would cost her twice that.
In China, meanwhile, married women who meet the government’s criteria freeze their eggs for around 20,000 RMB (2,290 GBP), she says.
On the matter of challenging Chinese cultural norms, the women’s rights trailblazer said complexities were manifold.
Ms Xu noted: “My mother has been generally supportive. She told me to research egg freezing if it’s what I really want to do.
“But Chinese tradition, or any opposition to egg freezing, is not that simple.
“Some parents only want to see their children get married, even if they don’t want kids.
“Others feel marriage is not a must and instead prioritise the need for offspring and future generations.”
Ms Xu said the best outcome for her would be the day Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital allows her to access its egg-freezing services.
But she admitted she was conscious of the fact that any amendments to state-level legislation could take months or even years.
She said: “The goal is to have my eggs frozen at that hospital. But if not me, then I hope it at least opens the door for everyone else.
“I will pursue every possible legal avenue for the right to autonomy over my body.”
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Story By: John Feng, Sub-Editor: Michael Leidig, Agency: Asia Wire Report
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