TEHRAN, Iran — In an effort to boost its birthrate, Iran is considering passing a parliamentary bill that would ban family-planning programs, remove pre-marriage education and birth control at clinics and tighten abortion laws. This proposal poses a serious obstacle to progress on all fronts for Iranian women.
Since the 1990s, Iran has offered free condoms and subsidized vasectomies. These family-planning programs were started due to concerns that Iran was growing too quickly—notably, the Iranian population doubled within a decade after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Currently, Iran’s fertility rate is 1.7, which is below the replacement level of 2.1. Iran’s declining birthrates, described by UN Chief of Population Policy Vinod Mishra as “one of the most dramatic declines in the world,” have been attributed to several factors: more women participating in higher education and the workforce, increasing divorce rates and a struggling economy.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated that the country has the potential to reach a population of 150 million. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agrees with Ahmadinejad and condemns the birth control policies, claiming that they are imitations of “Western life.”
Khamenei also wants to implement a government grant of $950 for each newborn and create fertility clinics. “If we move forward like this, we will be a country of elderly people in a not-too-distant future. Why do some couples prefer to have one or two children? Why do men and women avoid having children through different means? The reasons need to be studied. We are not a country of 75 million, we have the capacity to become at least 150 million people, if not more.”
Iran’s health ministry has yet to publicly approve of this parliamentary bill, but it seems unlikely that it will disagree with Khamenei. If this bill were to pass, what would it mean for Iran’s women?
Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian HIV/AIDS doctor who was imprisoned by the Iranian government for pioneering AIDS treatment, sees the bill as a step back for women’s health in Iran. Attributing Iran’s slow birthrate to social, economic and cultural reasons rather than Iran’s contraception policies, Dr. Alaei believes that cutting access to contraception will only “increase unintentional abortion and maternal mortality.”
Since the 1990s, Iranian women have undoubtedly benefited from these birth control programs. Women’s reproductive control, literacy rate and education level have all grown tremendously in the past 20 years. Furthermore, the number of women who pass university entrance exams is now higher than the number of men who do so.
By blocking access to family planning and tightening abortion laws, Iran would be halting the progress that its women have been gradually making for years. Several freedoms—from the freedom to choose when to have children to the freedom to decide whether or not to carry out a pregnancy—would be slowly enveloped by the Iranian government if Khamenei’s vision is not stopped. Hopefully, there will be strong opposing voices from both inside and outside Iran to draw attention to this crucial issue.
Photo: Global Gender Current