It’s not often insurance coverage is reported on around the world. But when Facebook and Apple announced their decision to start covering egg freezing for people with uteruses that’s exactly what happened.
Since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the experimental label two years ago, there’s been a surge of folks signing up for the procedure. After all, the CDC reports that since 1970s the number of women having children between 35-39 has gone up 150 percent, leaving biology to catch up.
No longer is it a procedure for cancer patients hoping to have kids post-chemo. The New York University Fertility Center says that egg freezing now makes up one-third of their business, up from five percent only five years ago. And many of the women that come in describe the experience as “empowering.” A majority of them only gamble with egg freezing because of a lack of partner prospects, no longer just health options. Now it’s the missing link between having it all and maximizing your uterus, as highlighted in this extensive Bloomberg Businessweek story from Emma Rosenblum:
Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago. (“Desperation level,” as Brigitte Adams, a marketing director at a Los Angeles software company who froze her eggs at 39, puts it.) And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.
The thing is, this is exactly the double-edged sword everyone’s so concerned about. Supporters of the benefit argue that it simply provides the opportunity for your employer to pay (up to $20,000!) for your chance at preserving the dream of having kids down the road.
Opponents see it as something more nefarious: an unspoken policy that if you’re hoping to advance your career you’d better stay childless. That’s the issue Robin Shea raised on her blog, The Employment and Labor Insider:
…could this be viewed as pressure on women to stay childless as long as they want to advance their careers? There is nothing illegal about this benefit in itself, but it could become exhibit A in a lawsuit brought by a woman who is turned down for a promotion because of pregnancy, or because of actual or perceived “maternal” responsibilities.
While, as Robin mentions, there is nothing directly illegal about these new benefits, pregnancy is more in the crosshairs now than ever before as the EEOC issued guidance on the practice, signaling future litigation. In his post on it for Labor & Employment Perspectives, Connor Sabatino says
…employers should think long and hard, and reconsider all actions that may be taken, or not taken, if an employee situation involves pregnancy – the EEOC is certainly doing so.
On the surface, there’s not a lot wrong with Apple and Facebook offering their employees a choice of fertility options; egg freezing is just one of the many options these companies offer for those starting a family, and nobody seems to be arguing that greater reproductive options are a bad thing.
But the implication of this benefit coming from your employer carries with it a more dangerous takeaway: it’s framing the child and career juggling as a uterus issue rather than a family issue.
Why not put (even some of) that money towards a child care service? Neither company currently offers this, although Facebook will let you bring your dog to work. If the Child Care Aware 2013 study is to be believed, you could save your employees a huge chunk of their paycheck, while also cutting back on the the $3 billion annual cost to U.S. businesses when employees are forced to miss work because of faulty child care.
More options for healthcare is always great. Many U.S. citizens rely on their employers to provide them with benefits, and at its purest feminism encourages the freedom of choice Devo sang about. But if this, as Andrew Rodman says, is essentially a way for Apple and Facebook to diversify their 70 percent male workplace it backfires. It seems the track behind drawing more diversity to the tech industry lies in a cultural change and outreach, rather than offering targeted, high-falutin’ benefits.
Fatherhood doesn’t seem to be seen as at odds with being a good employee, in fact recent studies show that it’s as much a boon to them as it is detrimental to mothers. Motherhood is already facing a fight to stay in the workplace, with the EEOC taking specific action given the increase in complaints and charges in the last few years. And all too easily could egg freezing become the new unofficial expectation of employees: so long as they provide it you’re theirs.
Who knows, maybe this whole argument will be moot now that scientists are successfully birthing babies from transplanted uteruses. But with pregnancy discrimination still alive and well in the workplace, it seems like just icing won’t alleviate the pain.