Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Single women have the right to give birth

By Ye Peng (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-07 07:41

Single women have the right to give birth

An employee demonstrates the process to extract eggs in a lab at the e-Stork Reproductive Center in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, August 8, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

Two micro blogs posted by popular writer Han Han questioning the country's tight regulation on egg-freezing services for unmarried women have sparked an online uproar.

That more people are paying attention to the problem of women wishing to become single mothers is not a bad thing, especially when the reproductive rights of unmarried women have become a social reality that needs attention. With greater economic independence, women in China today can survive and thrive without men or marriage. Yet if any of them wants to remain single and, at the same time, become a mother, she cannot do so, because an article in the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation, issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in 2003, says it is prohibited to use assisted reproductive technology on couples not complying with the family planning policy or on unmarried women.

Although the regulation does not clearly define egg freezing as assisted reproductive technology, a single woman cannot give birth because she cannot furnish a marriage certificate, which apart from a valid reproduction permit and identity card is mandatory for the purpose, to the medical authorities.

It is untenable to pin the right to give birth to marriage because reproductive right is a basic human right and is much older than the concept of marriage, society or nation. In today's constantly developing world, traditional ethics and beliefs are facing new challenges. For instance, an increasing number of people don't see marriage as a necessity or consider marriage necessary for having a baby.

A woman, irrespective of whether she is married or not, who wants to give birth is merely exercising her basic human right. Choosing not to marry does not necessarily mean she should be deprived of her reproductive right.

Worse, influenced by the traditional mindset on marriage, some people believe that a child born to and raised by a single mother, and thus deprived of paternal care, may not have a happy and healthy life. They also worry about social and ethical matters - that because of the unknown identity of the biological father, the child could grow up and accidentally marry its half brother or sister.

Such people forget that factors such as discordant families, poverty and isolation can also harm a child's mental and emotional health. A couple that quarrel a lot and ignore parental duties can do a lot of harm to their child. In comparison, a single mother - very likely to be better educated and with higher income - could not only be a good parent but also a good provider and teacher.

No one can say for sure how risky the egg-freezing technology is and whether children born through assisted reproduction technology will be more vulnerable to diseases because long-term studies are yet to be conducted. But before a woman decides to become a single mother using the technology, she certainly will consider all the pros and cons associated with it. People opposed to the idea of single mothers believe in narrow-minded concepts of family, and refuse to acknowledge the demands of the changing society.

The aim of the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation was to prevent unplanned births given the commercialization of surrogacy at the beginning of this century. With the help of assisted reproductive technology, the business of surrogacy that reduces a human life to a commodity has, no doubt, trampled both life and human dignity. But such business can definitely be eliminated through strengthened supervision.

There is no need to completely change the family planning policy, but slight adjustments can be made, for example, to allow couples to have two children or ensure single women enjoy the right to give birth, in order to improve the demographics of the country.

A modern society should respect the reproductive rights of women, be they married or single. Only by advancing with the times and embracing the new values can society become truly harmonious, and the government needs to reflect on it.

The author is a commentator on Phoenix TV website.

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