12/03/2021, 12.33
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Tehran: heavy restrictions on abortion and contraception

The norm is wanted by the ultra-conservative president Raisi and responds to the directives of the supreme guide Khamenei. For activists and critics, the goal is the control of women and family life. Greater constraints and limits to access to abortion. A radical change from the policies imposed by the founder of the Islamic Republic Khomeini. 


Tehran (AsiaNews) - The ultra-conservative government of President Ebrahim Raisi, victorious in last May's elections, wants to shelve years of free access to contraception and abortion - albeit in well-defined cases - imposing heavy restrictions. A policy that is part of the (new) family planning program, which focuses on the birth rate and population growth in response to the severe economic and social crisis that grips the nation.

The law, enacted last month, aims to address the issue of demographic change by establishing restrictions and prohibitions on the use of contraception (free), voluntary sterilization and termination of pregnancy, offering incentives to women of childbearing age. In addition, it strengthens the role of the police and security agencies in the surveillance of those who access these services, authorizing greater control in the private (family) life of citizens. 

UN experts call the law "a blatant violation of women's human rights" under international standards. Iranian activists do not spare criticism to a text that tightens the restrictions, as Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet points out that "it is only an element of control over women and families". A law, she adds, that constitutes a "worrying example" of a global trend in some nations that increase controls and surveillance.

The law, called " Rejuvenation Populationand Support for Family bill," comes at a time when growth rates and birthrate figures in the Islamic Republic are in steep decline. Iran, a nation of nearly 85 million, has "the lowest fertility rate in the entire Middle East," as Saleh Ghasemi, head of the Iranian Center for Strategic Population Research, reports. Seyed Hamed Barakati, deputy minister of health for the family and school population, spoke of a 25% drop in the birth rate over the last four years, now standing at 1.7 children per mother. On average, a family fathered its first child after four years of marriage and a second after another five years. Abortion requests submitted in recent years are about 12 thousand, of which about 9 thousand have been approved. 

In the past, Iranian women could have access to the practice of therapeutic abortion within the first four months of pregnancy, subject to approval by a committee of three doctors who ascertained a real danger of life for the mother or serious malformations of the fetus. Under the new legislation, a pregnant woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy must appear before a committee made up of a judge, a doctor and a legal expert, and it is not yet known what criteria will be used to decide, although a tightening of permits and a limitation of the practice seems obvious.

The legislation calls into question the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, which will have to draw up a plan to hit doctors who practice illegal abortions and those who distribute pills for the termination of pregnancy. Every year in Iran there are between 300 thousand and 600 thousand illegal abortions, which can cause physical and psychological damage in the long term, including infertility. And cases of death due to the precarious conditions in which they are performed are not uncommon.

The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also intervened on the issue, calling on Iranians to have children and increase the birth rate. This is a radical change from his predecessor and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, under whose direction the government encouraged families to have only one or two children, opposed underage pregnancies and provided free contraceptives or vasectomies. And even in rural areas, women and pregnant people generally had access to health screenings at clinics and other family planning centers.

Today, in an era of demographic decline and economic crisis, the policy has changed diametrically.


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