Apple, Facebook Insinuate 'Mothers Are Not Welcomed in the Workplace' With Freezing Egg Benefit, Says Christian Theologian

Customers gather outside an Apple store before the release of iPhone 5 in Munich, Germany, Sept. 21, 2012.
Customers gather outside an Apple store before the release of iPhone 5 in Munich, Germany, Sept. 21, 2012. | (Photo: Reuters/Michael Dalder)

Although some are praising Silicon Valley technology companies Facebook and Apple for offering to pay for their female employees to undergo egg freezing procedures that would allow them to put off childbirth until after the prime of their careers, a Christian ethicist is arguing that companies paying for such fertility treatments send the message that "mothers are not welcomed in the workplace during the prime of their careers."

In order to help attract the top female talents to come work for them, Facebook and Apple are offering a rare benefit that will finance up to $20,000 in annual coverage for women to freeze their eggs through the process of cryopreservation, a process that extracts the eggs from the mother and stores them in sub-zero temperature until the mother is ready to have kids.

Some feel the purpose of undergoing this fertility procedure is to allow women to focus on their careers when they are younger while putting off childbearing and motherhood until they have the flexibility for it later in life, perhaps after their career. The process typically costs about $10,000, while it costs about $500 per year to store the eggs. Facebook has already been offering this perk to their employees, while Apple will begin offering it to their employees in January of 2015.

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Although proponents of egg freezing and other reproductive methods claim that it is a small victory for gender equality, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that he doesn't see it that way.

"I don't see it as a victory for gender equality because it is an implicit statement that being a mother is a hindrance to being a valued employee at those companies, and I think we can do better than that," Moore said in an interview with The Christian Post. "My larger concern in this context would be what this means for the expectations that these companies have for their women employees. This seems to me that this could be an implicit statement that mothers are not welcome in the workplace in the prime of their careers."

Although Facebook and Apple also offer competitive maternity benefits, like Facebook offering $4,000 in "baby cash" and Apples' coverage of up to $15,000 for infertility treatments, Charles Camosy, a professor of theology at Fordham University in New York, told The Christian Science Monitor that he believes companies paying for egg freezing procedures send the message that female employees should not have children until their company wants them to.

"It is astonishing that American culture will continue to do everything possible to support young working women in not having children," Camosy wrote in an email to the Monitor. "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."

Lyndsey Godwin, assistant director for the Carpenter Program on Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt Divinity School, said that although it is hard to say whether the procedure is ethical for Christian women to undergo, moral and ethical questions need to be raised when corporations start taking such interest in their employees' fertility decisions.

"It is particularly interesting that a company is getting this involved in somebody's family and decision making and reproduction," Godwin said in an interview with The Christian Post. "There are some questions around what it means to have a corporation encouraging somebody to make a family in a certain way ... and is important that folks are paying attention."

Statistics compiled by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicates that the process of freezing eggs doesn't correlate into a high chance of pregnancy. points out, ASRM finds that when eggs from a mother 38 or younger are frozen, there is only a 2 to 12 percent chance that the egg freezing will lead to an actual baby.

With such a low pregnancy rate resulting from the frozen eggs, Moore said he thinks that companies need to find a other ways to help women balance the struggle between work and starting a family. Moore added that egg freezing "severs" the one flesh union of marriage and "turns children into commodities to be manufactured rather than gifts to be received."

"I think there are better ways to address the real problems of balancing work and home," Moore said. "Many companies have done that with providing time flexibility, providing options for some employees to work from home, telecommuting and other sources of innovative solutions I think are better than trying to re-engineer motherhood."

Although Moore said egg freezing doesn't represent the one flesh union, Godwin said that whether it is ethical from a Christian standpoint for a woman to undergo such a procedure can be argued either way and really depends largely on one's own Christian framework.

"It's going to depend. There are certain frameworks that say, 'Yes, absolutely its ethical and appropriate and they are denominational doctrines that support IV fertilization and other reproductive technology,'" Godwin said. "And, in other places they are like, 'Nope, no way.'"

Although many might consider 40 and older an old age for childbirth, Marcia Inhorn, a Yale University professor and medical anthropologist who is actively conducting research on egg freezing, said in an interview with that most women who undergo this procedure are typically in their late 30s and early 40's and the decision to have the procedure usually has nothing to do with their career but is rather based on their personal relationship circumstances.

The fact that Inhorn's research reveals that even women in their late 30's and early 40s are putting off childbirth for later in their life poses the question of how old is too old for a woman to give birth to a child?

"My last son was born when I was 40 years old … [Having children] at 40 is very different from children who are born to someone who is in late 50s or 60s," Moore said. "What happens to that child that doesn't have the parent working, living and guiding that child through his formative stages of life. I just don't think we know all of the implications here for that. Freezing children until one is at a point where one can take a break from one's career, I think is the wrong way to approach this."

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