Social Egg Freezing In Singapore
After GE 2020, a record-breaking 29% of parliamentary seats are now occupied by female politicians in Singapore. There’s no doubt that the fight for women’s rights in our country has progressed significantly. But, as a secular, medically advanced state, the fact that social egg freezing in Singapore is banned might come as a surprise. Especially since procedures like IVF and abortion have long been legalised.
In a response to a parliamentary question posed in October 2020, the Ministry of Social and Family development was reviewing the existing policy on social egg freezing. As of 2022, it is only permissible on medical grounds like preserving them before undergoing chemotherapy.
Recently, articles on women heading overseas to freeze their eggs to sidestep the ban has sparked greater debate over the topic. We spoke to 8 Singaporean women to share their views on why they should have the freedom to undergo social egg freezing in Singapore.
1. “It allows women to have more autonomy over what they do with their bodies and reproductive timelines”
Image courtesy of Vivien Ong
“The ban seems so contradictory to the usually secular, pragmatic society that we live in. If science has advanced to the point where there’s a Plan B, why shouldn’t we be allowed to opt for it?
Elective egg freezing allows women to have more autonomy over what they do with their bodies and reproductive timelines. At peak childbearing age, being able to sufficiently care for ourselves, work and provide for children is not something many afford. Most of us would have just started our careers in this fiercely competitive country. We also often have no control over where we stand in terms of financial or marital status. If there were options to preserve young healthy eggs, it would give me peace of mind, whether I use them or not.
I feel that social policies in Singapore are very much affected by the religious and ‘traditional’ majority of the older generation. Anything that isn’t ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’ is immediately frowned upon.
A popular argument against allowing social egg freezing in Singapore is that it will cause women to deliberately delay marriage and have children later. However, as it is, there were twice the number of mothers aged 30-39 as compared to 20-29 last year, reflecting the prevailing choice of women here. If I want to have a baby at 40 and use eggs I had frozen at 30, the risk of abnormalities would be lower.
Unfortunately if the ban does not lift after serious discussion, it would signal to me that my role as a woman here is to bear children while I’m fertile; and I should keep mum about my socio-economic struggles or other contributions to the country because I have not managed to naturally add to our fertility numbers.
I would 100% freeze my eggs. I have always wanted children and planned for it. But, at 29, I’m currently going through a divorce and feel like I’m set back a few years. Knowing that there is technology out there that can keep my eggs optimal, and that I can choose to come back to them if I need, is such a comfort and form of empowerment.”
– Vivien Ong, 29
2. “It’s about respecting their personal reasons, like lack of resources or not having found a suitable partner”
Image courtesy of Amanda Keisha Ang
“It’s kind of shocking to find out that social egg freezing in Singapore is banned, to be honest. I thought it was a common offering in any medically advanced country.
Letting women control when they are able to have children, and not have to worry about depreciation of the quality of their eggs should be a big enough reason to allow the procedure. It’s about respecting their personal reasons, like lack of resources and not having found a suitable partner, for doing so.
Statistics show that more young people start to have families later. One might argue conceiving later in life is considered selfish as the welfare of the child is affected due to the parent’s older age. This tells me that I need to find a suitable partner early, have kids at a more fertile age in order to reduce the risk of failed parenting.
But what if I simply can’t find one? What if my circumstances disallow me to start a family early? What if it’s all this, plus the fact that I have less egg production due to certain medical conditions? Would I have a child early simply because my biological clock is ticking, and eventually have to face the struggle of parenting when I am not ready? Is that a life I want for my child? Of course not.
I don’t know if Singapore will eventually lift the ban, but I hope so. The issue is telling of the overall projection of what a woman’s body should be doing versus what women really want with regard to future family planning.
I would freeze my eggs if I were allowed to. I’m 36 and only last year did I start thinking about egg freezing because I’m currently single. I am now only just reaching the peak of my career too. I had an ovarian cyst surgery in my youth that removed 1 ovary. This means I have less eggs right now as I am growing older, but I would like to have the option of having children regardless.”
– Amanda Keisha Ang, 36
3. “Freedom of choice is the biggest reason”
“When I read that social egg freezing in Singapore is banned, I was quite angry. The process of thinking about giving birth, and everything that comes after is already tough enough on women, so the extra barrier just really frustrated me.
Freedom of choice is the biggest reason why social egg freezing should be allowed. I think that every woman is entitled to her own choice regarding how she wants to approach conception.
I think the ban is mostly tied to religious reasons. I read an article about the issue in The Business Times where the National Council of Churches was quoted calling the process ‘selfish’. I just cannot comprehend a body of people making an executive decision on something as personal as a woman’s reproductive health and over-generalising the issue as selfish.
I feel that the only reason cited by the council against the procedure that would make sense is how it would promote the ‘medicalisation and commodification’ of women’s bodies. But, I feel like it’s always a grey area when it comes to advancements in technology.
If the ban is not lifted, it’s definitely indicative of sexism that exists in Singapore. Especially given that Singapore is trying to push for higher birth rates, this issue just emphasises how people still view women’s purpose as that for child bearing. And, on top of that, they want to continue to control the circumstances (age, stage of life, career) that surround the process of conception.
I don’t know if I would freeze my eggs if it were allowed. It depends on how I feel about having them, financial concerns and other factors. But, I want to stress that I feel like women should be given the choice to decide for themselves.”
– Amanda Yu, 21
4. “As we age, the quality of eggs depreciates”
“It wasn’t until recently that I found out social egg freezing is banned in Singapore. I was shocked because I thought a progressive society like ours should have such a procedure available.
When I worked at a prenatal lab, I learnt that the prime childbearing age is between 25 and 27 years old. But, at that age, most of us are fresh out of university and in the workforce, hardly an adult. From a scientific angle, it makes sense to let women freeze healthy eggs at their prime. Quality of eggs depreciates as we age and are more prone to genetic mutations that could lead to miscarriages, birth deformities and difficult gestations. By freezing eggs and using them when we are more ready to be mothers, there will be a higher chance of successful pregnancies.
Ultimately, why should women be a prisoner to our own bodies, where we are living days with an expiration date of ‘effectiveness’. Is it our sole purpose in life to be a baby-making machine? It takes a lot of maturity to be a good mother. I feel that I shouldn’t be pressured to do something life-changing I’m not ready for, when I haven’t even figured myself out.
I’m pretty sure the main sources of resistance are the government and religious groups. They’ve expressed concern that egg freezing may encourage women to delay getting married and having children. I feel that the government has a very tunnel vision on controlling the birth rate in Singapore. There are much more pressing issues, like rising education costs and housing, resulting in delays in marriage and having kids.
[I think we should] move away from the traditional idea of a family unit. If society is not so hung up on it, there will be less pressure on women. Birth rate might even increase eventually because we can [then] choose to have kids when we are more financially and emotionally stable.
I’m quite optimistic that our country will eventually lift the ban. But, it may take some time given the crazy COVID-19 situation. If it’s not lifted, to me, it just shows that our society has a backward thinking about the well-being and role of women.
Of course I would freeze my eggs! I’m 32 and currently single. I’m almost reaching the end of my ‘expiration date’. If I don’t freeze my eggs, I might just have to give up my “opportunity” to be a biological mother then. That’s sad, isn’t it?
– Steph Leong, 32
5. “It gives every woman the choice to be in control of their own reproductive health ”
Image courtesy of Beverly Choo
“Career progression aside, allowing social egg freezing simply gives every woman the choice to be in control of their own reproductive health. Every woman should be able to make their own decision on how they would like to have children. Egg freezing also gives an accessible safety net to those who do not want children but may change their minds.
I believe a major factor for the ban is concerns over Singapore’s low birth rate. Many young people seem to be less willing to have children in this city because of how expensive a child can be to raise. It’s not hard to imagine why the government would be concerned that allowing people to delay having children might cause the birth rate to plummet or prevent it from rising.
However, banning the practice does virtually nothing to aid low birth rates. People can still choose not to have children at all, or risk the chance of not being able to have one later in life. Allowing social egg freezing would allow those who still wish to have children at a later timer to have a higher chance of success.
I personally don’t see any sign the ban will be lifted anytime soon since there isn’t too much public pushback on it. I think labelling the issue as sexism would be too narrow. Sperm freezing is also banned as far as I know.
If the ban isn’t lifted, it would worsen the issue of the massive class divide in Singapore. As the city grows more expensive, choosing when to start a family will be a luxury. Those without the means to travel overseas to freeze their eggs will be forced to have a child when they aren’t ready, or deal with declining fertility levels when they are older.
I won’t freeze my eggs even if it were allowed because I don’t want to bring another child into the world. But, it doesn’t mean other people who wish to shouldn’t be able to.”
– Beverly Choo, 21
6. “Disallowing the procedure still does not deter women from going overseas”
“I am of the view that the egg freezing ban should be lifted because disallowing the procedure locally does not deter women from going overseas to do it. Allowing it locally provides a safer and more convenient way for them to do so. If they do it overseas, they may not be able to enjoy possible subsidies and proper healthcare that could have been provided in Singapore.
Egg freezing gives women autonomy to focus on their career and put family plans on hold. Most women who undergo the process ultimately still wish to have children. This opportunity should not be denied from them, especially when it could help increase the country’s birth rates.
I believe that the government is of the view that starting a family at a younger age is preferable because the fertility rate is higher. This could help increase the country’s birth rates. I understand there is also concern that even if the eggs are frozen for use, this does not mitigate the dangers of pregnancy at a later age.
While the country’s birth rates are a concern for the future, I believe that this can be mitigated by implementing measures to incentivise career women to have children. For instance, extended paid paternity leave, like in Sweden and Iceland, can be granted to ease the burden of working mothers.
I think that minimally giving women the option to have a child in their later child bearing years is better than not at all. Undergoing this process is not an easy choice for women to make, as they understand the level of commitment and sacrifice that it takes.
There is a possibility that Singapore will lift this ban, but not any time in the foreseeable future. Presently, I doubt there even has been a study conducted to determine the percentage of women’s interest in the procedure. Enforcing this ban inherently propagates the narrative that the role of women should be focused on child bearing.
I wouldn’t freeze my eggs immediately if it were allowed, but I am also not adverse to it. It is early to say at the moment whether I wish to prioritise my career over starting a family.”
– Brenda Low, 21
7. “The paradigm of getting married early and having kids after has shifted”
Image courtesy of Sarah Jean Wee
“Singapore’s outlook on this topic is too conservative. There is a lack of an in-depth approach in understanding the various reasons why women choose to undergo egg freezing. They also fear the potential risks of having to make difficult moral decisions deriving from egg freezing.
The paradigm of getting married early and having kids after has shifted over the years. Factors such as high levels of work stress, unrealistic expectations in work productivity and efficiency, have contributed to low birth rates and late marriages. Secondary infertility caused by low sperm count and quality is a major issue too later in life. Using eggs frozen when the woman is still young and fertile will help her conceive whenever she is ready.
Harvesting eggs is an arduous process. You have to go through consultations, daily jabs on schedule with plenty of side effects. I’ve experienced body bloat, breathing problems and panic attacks. Hormonal imbalance from trying to harvest as many eggs as possible in a cycle can cause mood swings and flushes.
The actual harvesting is done under sedation where a long needle goes through the vagina. Quite a scary experience. If it’s not for genuinely planning for babies in the future, I don’t think anyone would go through it.
The government should look at it from a pragmatic view. Birth rates and marriages are going down while divorce rates are increasing. They also have a notion that children raised in a conventional family is the ideal setting. I believe there’s a fear that egg freezing might promote having children out of wedlock as people might get greedy and insist on using eggs before marriage
I’m hopeful that one day we will look at this issue with a new perspective and agree that it’s beneficial to the country. I’ve frozen my eggs and conceived 2 adorable babies from IVF. They are now 8 and 5 years old. I’ve shared with the two that they were test-tube babies and were conceived in the same harvest.”
– Sarah Jean Wee, 45
8. “It is insurance against a biological clock we have no control over”
“I think the ban is archaic and ignores the problem of many women. It shows that Singapore is still trying to desperately hold on to the “traditional family” narrative. It also doesn’t make sense given our concern over falling birth rates – social egg freezing is a way to increase it.
At the crux of it, we should be allowed to freeze our eggs because it’s human rights. Men should be allowed to socially freeze sperm too.
It’s unfair to take away a woman’s chance at motherhood later in life because she has other priorities during her prime childbearing years. Singapore encourages young couples to live close to their parents with grants. There is a responsibility of taking care of our elderly parents. Not everyone has the financial means to care for parents, themselves and potential future kids. In their 20s and 30s, women are still trying to further their careers and find the right partner too.
Egg freezing is insurance against a biological clock we have no control over.
I think the ban is enforced because Singapore is, to an extent, proud of its “conservative Asian values”. In line with this, social egg freezing might be too radical. However, this doesn’t mean we should be ignoring more “western” approaches to life. The traditional family unit is changing and as a progressive nation, we should accept that.
Assuming that the ban is enforced due to the worry of women delaying marriage, then it would equate to Singapore’s continued support of a patriarchal society and not fully supporting women’s rights.
I would absolutely freeze my eggs if it were allowed in Singapore. I’m currently in the U.S. now visiting my husband’s family and we are considering extending the trip so we can freeze my eggs here. But, seeing as Singapore is home, I would prefer to freeze them there. Also, I would fully trust Singapore to store them properly.”
– @myeggsmytime, 31
Women Share About Why Social Egg Freezing In Singapore Should Be Allowed
From the sharing of these 8 women, there are multiple arguments on why the ban on social egg freezing in Singapore should be lifted. Predominant ones include reproductive autonomy and the ability to start a family when ready without having to worry about an “expiration date”.
Women are playing an increasingly active role in our workforce and defying traditional “norms” of their role in society. At the end of the day, women deserve to have autonomy on issues pertaining to their bodies, whether it be not wanting kids, or delaying having them.
It’s evident that the issue of social egg freezing in Singapore is a complex one. The debate on elective egg freezing is undoubtedly linked to other social issues such as rising costs of living, increasing competitiveness, and prevailing policies on parenthood. Therefore, as we continue to discuss this issue, we must remember not to have a myopic view on it.
Cover: Images courtesy of interviewees
Quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity