Medical Coverage for Freezing Eggs: A Step Toward Gender Equality?

Interview conducted by Charles Van Dievort and Monique Baus.

Facebook and Apple, both well known for attracting a large number of women, are going to include egg freezing in their employees’ medical coverage to help them postpone motherhood. This unheard-of initiative coming from the United States raises a number of questions.

Valérie Lootvoet, dean of the University of Women in Brussels, argues no.


If we accept this type of idea, it means we cannot truly see what stakes are at play for society. This offer presumes that women must make a choice between having children and working. It also goes hand in hand with the “everything for the company” idea [that posits] there is no room for anything else but work. We are not making any advances in terms of gender equality; in fact, we are going backward!

What do you think of the proposition by several American companies to offer financial support to those employees who want to postpone pregnancy by freezing their eggs?

It is as if those women who are mothers don’t work! And [this proposition] is forgetting that it takes two to make a baby; we tend to skip past the fact that men are parents too. This offer also presumes that women have to make a choice between having children and working. It is just another typical American idea in all its splendor … Does the work model have to stipulate that you be on call 24/7, therefore providing no opportunity to do anything else? This proposition suggests that companies want to keep their employees captive until the end of time with impossible working hours. We are [trapped] in the “everything for the company” model, within which there is no room for a private life with a partner, parents, children or even oneself, [and no room] for hobbies, campaigning, etc. It is appalling!

Can you not see a woman wanting this type of intervention for personal reasons?

I have my doubts — unless it was a woman who knew from a young age that she would have fertility problems and would prefer to get ahead of the game. But in that case, we are talking about a medical practice. In this regard, we should not forget that freezing eggs doesn’t guarantee a perfect pregnancy; that is an illusion. Be that as it may, that is not what we are talking about here; this is more about taking control of a woman’s body, all in the name of the company. Who is to say that the next step won’t be hiring people only on the condition that they promise not to have children for a set number of years? These questions are about our private life, and companies have nothing to do with that, and cannot have a say in these matters.

You cannot deny that combining motherhood with a professional life can sometimes be rather difficult. So, what do you suggest to improve the situation?

We must make paternity leave obligatory for men. At least then the discrimination will affect both parents in the same way, and not just mothers — especially due to the fact that in order for women to be more available at work, we must ensure that men can be at home more.

Is there no way that this system of egg freezing could help in this rebalancing?

Certainly not. I would also like to say that in my opinion, equality does not mean ensuring that women sign up for a system invented by men, but rather, building something else where both [genders] blossom equally.

Despite laws being in place in some countries — like France — are women particularly discriminated against in their career if they have children early?

We know in any case that your career slows down each time you become a mother. So, it is likely that if you have a child later on, you will lose less time career-wise, since you will have had the time to prove your worth [at work]. Having said that, even a woman who doesn’t have a child early — or at all — is still discriminated against compared to her male colleagues. And on top of that, the employer is not the only obstacle stopping a woman from flourishing professionally. Often enough, the father of the woman’s child pushes her to be at home as much as possible to look after [the baby]. I would also say that a man is never penalized career-wise for having children. On the contrary, for him, it is a bonus. The more children he has, the better his career will be.

So nothing has moved on in the last few decades?

Worse; we have gone backward. The journalist Susan Faludi wrote [a report] 20 years ago called “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women.” In it, she explained that after some real improvements in women’s rights and liberties, male political powers have striven, in all areas, to take them away. And still today, we are seeing other restrictions of rights — regarding abortion, contraception, women as victims of violence, etc.

Isabella Lenarduzzi, founder of JUMP: “Empowering Women, Advancing the Economy,” argues yes.


When I learned two or three years ago that egg freezing was practiced in the U.S., I wondered, “What is this thing?” And then I thought, “Finally, a technology that gives us a little bit more equality between men and women.” And why not, as long as [the situation] is managed responsibly by the employer and employee?

What do you think of Facebook, Apple and Citibank’s initiative to finance, up to a limit of $20,000, the freezing of their employees’ eggs so that they can better lead their professional career?

Well, why not? It is in line with a reality that is evolving in America: More and more women in their 20s are intentionally choosing to freeze their eggs. It is not only because they are starting new careers and wanting to commit themselves, but also because they realize that it is better to have children with a good partner, one whom they are going to stay with for a long time. It is difficult to choose a partner when you are 25 because first, you have to get to know each other before [you can tell whether] you want to share the rest of your lives together. It is all part of an issue that we just cannot ignore.

Is this practice unique to the United States?

It has proven to be popular there, but I think it is also practiced in Europe. However, since it is a taboo subject, we know less about it. It is a practice that is inevitably going to grow, and it is pretty clever for an employer to help with the costs or fully support a woman once she has made the choice. Of course, just because a woman has made the choice to freeze her eggs does not mean she should be pressured to continue her career or be sent to the other side of the world [to work] for years on end. As long as everything is done in a respectable manner, where is the problem?

Is it unimaginable that there will still be some pressure anyways?

Pressure exists either way; what we need to do is make people aware of their responsibilities. It is up to us women to know when we want to have a career or not, and when we want to use or not use our frozen eggs. As far as I know, they are not the company’s property, and they don’t have to get permission from the employer to use them. If that were the case, then, it would obviously be unacceptable. It is like having a company car; you’re not asked to work impossible hours or avoid public transport just because you have one. As long as the woman remains autonomous and in control of the decision of whether or not to use her frozen eggs, then, it falls under usual employer-employee relations.

You have talked about the possible benefits of freezing eggs for women. What is in it for the companies that give the financial support?

Women are, overall, better educated and therefore, more qualified than men. They therefore generally enter into the working world a little later, but make up the largest breeding ground for talent. Companies want to take advantage of these talents, and they are investing so that they can count on these women; but the main issue is the biological inequality between men and women. The latter can have children at any age, whereas women have the pressure of their biological clocks, which start ticking loudly between the ages of 25 and 30. A debate on this topic actually took place a few months ago. Women are told that they do not realize that by deciding to have children later, [they are heading toward] a lot of problems — that it will take longer to become pregnant, that they may have to resort to IVF — in vitro fertilization — that they need to educate themselves about this, etc. In an interview that was featured in a monthly magazine, I responded that women should not be taken for fools. Everyone knows that past 30, our fertility rates are lower; we need to stop pressuring ourselves all the time. All the same, we are not going to have children at 25 out of fear of not being able to have them later on. If we do, we risk putting ourselves in some difficult situations: We might have them with the wrong partner, or we might not be in the right position financially, and that can cause problems. Motherhood is such a big responsibility that it is best done in the most favorable conditions possible.

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