Chinese activist fights to end single-mother stigma

STORY: Five years ago, Teresa Xu went to a Beijing hospital to have her eggs frozen.

She was denied the service for being unmarried.

So, she sued.

Now, her landmark case is at the center of a debate over reproductive rights in China.

XU: “I think it is important for single women to have bodily autonomy and should have the right to order the disposition of their own embryos.”

Under current guidelines, single women in China are barred from freezing their eggs.

Assisted reproductive technologies are only available to heterosexual married women with fertility issues.

Childbirth out of wedlock is rare - with a pervasive social stigma surrounding single mothers and even cases of local authorities punishing women through fines, or denying the child legal registration to access social security, schooling and healthcare.

Xu, a 35-year-old freelance writer, says she was motivated by a desire to change that.

She says single women should have more childbirth options without having to rely on finding a husband.

“I think about the unmarried women I know and I have a lot of respect for them. I think it's time for society to stop the stigma and see the diversity within single women. People may have all sorts of reasons, all sorts of starting points, to choose to stay as they are, to enter into marriage, or choose to have a reproductive plan on their own. I think that these women, their courage and independence, their determination, should actually be better understood."

There are signs that policy winds might turn in Xu's favor.

This year, China reported its first population drop in six decades - with record low birth and marriage rates.

Some provinces have already started extending childbirth benefits for unmarried women, and in places like Sichuan, single women are increasingly undergoing IVF treatments in private clinics.

Same-sex couples remain barred from marriage and adoption, and surrogacy is still illegal in China.

“Our current national population and fertility policy is that all couples are allowed to have up to three children. The one-child policy has already stepped down from this stage of history. So why do we still have to implement such an outdated regulation to bind people today? Is it possible that the time has come to put an end to this policy of restricting single women from freezing their eggs?”

Xu lost her case against the hospital last year, but she recently filed her final appeal.

The hearing concluded this week and a verdict has not yet been announced.