November 16, 2021

An Attack on Women’s Reproductive Rights in Iran

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported last week that a new population law in Iran infringes upon the sexual and reproductive health rights of Iranian women, putting them and their health at greater risk. Iran’s Guardian Council approved the bill on November 1st, 2021, which promotes population growth, adds further restrictions to Iranian women’s access to abortion and contraceptives, and outlaws the “free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system unless a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health,” according to HRW.

Though abortions can be legally performed in Iran under specific and limited circumstances where the mother’s life is in danger, this new legislation will further compound already existing restrictions on abortion and contraceptives and would be in effect for 7 years. As HRW notes, in recent years the Iranian government has altered its population planning policies, which were once hailed internationally for their effectiveness, to policies geared toward growing the population. In addition to the attack on women’s reproductive rights, this bill also targets the production of cultural material that contradict these new policies and encourages Iran’s state broadcasting agency to promote population growth while denouncing abortions.

This attitude on abortion rights is particularly concerning given that, according to the World Health Organization, countries with restrictive abortion laws have four times higher rates of unsafe abortions than countries where abortion is legal. This new bill aimed at growing the population and increasing the birth rate, in effect, puts the health and lives of women and girls at higher risk levels.

While the bill introduces some employment benefits for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding, which are welcome changes, it fails to address gender discrimination in hiring and in the workplace. Moreover, the bill’s overall impact is to undermine women’s rights and their access to reproductive healthcare. As human rights researcher Tara Sepehri Far aptly stated, “Iranian legislators are avoiding addressing Iranians’ many serious problems, including government incompetence, corruption, and repression, and instead are attacking women’s fundamental rights.”

The decision and choice to have a child belongs to every individual woman, it is not the place of the private or public sector to pressure their decision in either direction. The Iranian government must overturn any policies that deprive women of the autonomy they are entitled to, especially as it pertains to decisions around their sexual and reproductive rights. No policy should prevent a woman’s access to critical reproductive health. Women’s rights are human rights, and control over one’s body is an essential right for all women, which Iranian officials must uphold.

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