Bad Legislation, Outdated Regulation: Social Egg Freezing and Statutory Time Limits

Edward Hainsworth writes an interesting piece about social egg freezing and the legislative change needed to make the procedure more accessible to women.

Since the early 20th century, one of the UK’s greatest achievements has been women’s emancipation. Hard-fought but unfinished, it is one of the many reasons I am proud to be British.

However, bad legislation continues to harm progress. One such restriction concerns a women’s reproductive rights, and the time limit placed upon women who undertake social egg freezing (SEF).

SEF involves women preserving their fertility through freezing their eggs at a clinically optimum age (on average 20’s or early 30’s), for use later in life. In doing so, SEF avoids the egg degeneration that accompanies getting older[1] and increases a woman’s chances of having a child in the future.

It provides significant benefits. The first concerns time; women gain a respite from their biological clock and feel less urgent pressure to find a partner. Another is choice; SEF allows women to pursue further education and strive for their career goals, without feeling professionally restricted due to their desire for children.

This explains SEF’s soaring popularity. Figures from the regulator, the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA), show the number of women choosing to freeze their eggs has increased by 257% since 2015 - 80% being SEF cases.

However, due to outdated regulation, SEF treatment is restricted. Current regulations only permit women undertaking SEF to store their eggs for ten years. Afterwards, SEF women must attempt a pregnancy, destroy their eggs, or transfer it overseas.

There is no medical, scientific or technological reason for the storage limit. The development of vitirfication, an advanced egg freezing technique, ensures that eggs can remain healthy after ten years. In fact, the time limit incentivises women to delay SEF, or not pursue it at all.

Therefore, the present law can be seen to be against medical best practice, not aligned to technological progress, restrict a women’s choice and “replac[e] a biological clock with a statutory one”.

Reform is needed. Support already exists via a cross-party coalition in Parliament, from lead campaigners the Progress Educational Trust, and includes the Chair of the HFEA.

We have an opportunity to make this change happen. The Government has launched a public consultation reviewing the storage limit. By completing the form, and pursuing reform, we too can make a small impact in continuing women’s emancipation and empowerment in our Union.

- Daly, I., & Bewley, S. (2013). “Reproductive ageing and conflicting clocks: King Midas’ touch”. Reproductive biomedicine, 722-32.    

- Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (2018). “Egg freezing in fertility treatment: Trends and Figures 2010 – 2016”. Available at: [22nd October 2020].

- Jackson, E.
(2016). ‘’‘Social’ egg freezing and the UK’s statutory storage time limits’’. Journal of Medical Ethics. ISSN 0306-6800. Available at: [07th November 2019].

- UK Government (2019).Department of Health & Social Care: Consultation - Gamete (egg, sperm) and embryo storage limits”. Available at [22nd March 2020].


[1] Daly, I., & Bewley, S. (2013). Reproductive ageing and conflicting clocks: King Midas’ touch. Reproductive biomedicine online, 722-32.

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