Apple offers to freeze employees' eggs: Empowering women or warning to moms?

Facebook and Apple will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs. Some compared the development to the birth control pill in terms of liberating women from a biological clock. Others say it tells women that they need to delay having children if they want to be taken seriously as professionals.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
A Facebook worker waits for friends to arrive outside of headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook and Apple, long known for cushy perks such as free meals, laundry service, and massages, are now offering female employees $20,000 a year to freeze their eggs.

In what has been dubbed the latest entry in Silicon Valley’s perks race for top talent, two tech giants – Facebook and Apple – now will provide up to $20,000 in annual coverage for female employees to freeze their eggs, thus allowing potential flexibility in child-bearing.

Both firms already offer extensive maternity and fertility benefits, such as 18 weeks of leave and $4,000 in “baby cash” for parents to spend as needed.

But this latest addition to the corporate benefits package, which has already begun at Facebook and will launch at Apple in January, represents a new frontier in the world of reproductive technology. 

While some cultural watchers compared the development to the discovery of the birth control pill in terms of liberating women from a biological clock, others suggest this may be sending a mixed and not necessarily positive message to young women that they need to delay having a family if they want to be taken seriously as professionals.

“I have mixed feelings on this,” says Alice Crisci, founder of Ovum Medical, via e-email. “As a feminist those companies are sending the wrong message to women: we value you as an employee without kids so we will help you delay your childbearing years.”

When and whether to have children is a deeply person decision, others note.

“When to time college, grad school, babies, starting a career, accelerating a career – all of these have huge ramifications in your life and that of your significant other. Is the employer trying to tell us something?” Kellye Sheehan, of Women in Technology, a Washington-based organization for women in the industry, told USA Today. “Agreed, working mothers have a lot to juggle. But you can’t let your employer force you into something that doesn’t fit your values or personal choices.”

For their part, doctors have medical, as well as societal concerns. Egg-freezing was regarded as experimental until 2012. To suddenly make it an elective option ignores potential complications women may face. 

“It is positive that Apple and Facebook recognize the importance of reproductive decisions in people’s lives,” says Dr. David Adamson, a reproductive specialist who teaches at Stanford Medical School and the chief executive officer of Advanced Reproductive Care. “Women could be making serious decisions about their personal life without the kinds of information they really need to understand the risks associated with those decisions.” 

Nor does the surgery come with a guarantee of a healthy baby five or 10 years down the road.

Women may be given a false sense of hope about their ability to control and extend their reproductive years, says Dr. Santiago Munné, founder and president of Reprogenetics in New Jersey For women over 35, freezing eggs may not even be an option, he points out.

But other doctors said they believe some women will welcome the freedom to focus more intently on their careers in their 20s.

“This is a major development for women to allow them to balance their family goals with their personal and family goals,” says Dr. Michael Alper, medical director for Boston IVF and reproductive endocrinologist, who said he believes other companies will follow Apple’s and Facebook’s lead.

Some cultural observers say that’s what they are worried about. The very presence of such technology on a menu of elective benefits sends a negative message, says Charles Camosy, a professor of theology at Fordham University in New York. 

While the tech leaders may be adding this option as one more perk among options that already include paid maternity leave, as well as leave for same-sex and adoptive parents, as a general society, America is lagging when it comes to offering women options that allow them to combine motherhood and a professional career.

“It is astonishing that American culture will continue to do everything possible to support young working women in not having children,” says Professor Camosy via e-mail. “We’ll ask women to undergo major surgery to freeze their eggs so that they can delay having children, but especially when compared with European countries, the US lags far behind supporting women who want to combine a career with being a mother.” 

Instead of asking women to delay having children, Camosy says, “We ought to be providing onsite child care, equal pay for equal work, and maternity leave.”

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