Two and a half years after the passage of the “Rejuvenation of the Population and Protection of the Family” law and a multitude of directives issued by various department of the executive branch, efforts to carry out the wishes of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who for years has been obsessed with increasing Iran’s population, has continued.
In recent years the Islamic Republic’s policies have aimed to aggressively increase the population of Iran at whatever cost. This has involved questionable measures, like offering hefty loans to couples who have a third child and criminalizing family planning services.
In the latest measure aimed at discouraging abortions and access to birth control, the Ministry of Sciences and Technology, which supervises universities in Iran, issued a directive on April 25 to remove educational material in institutions of higher education that opposes “childbearing.”
Since November 2021, when the “Rejuvenation of the Population” law went into effect, screening of fetuses and surgeries to prevent pregnancy were severely limited and even banned. Also banned were free contraceptives. Furthermore, several directives and guidelines to encourage couples to have children and to prevent dissemination of any kind of information about contraceptives have been issued, but apparently the government officials are still unhappy with the results of their actions.
In February, the National Organization for Civil Registration published statistics showing that the birth rate fell in 2022 to its lowest level in the past 11 years.
Despite the failure of the government’s policies to force people to have children, governmental organizations continue to issue directives without taking into account the results of previous measures. The directive by the Ministry of Sciences offers incentives like making it easier for women university students to get leaves of absence if they are pregnant or need to nurse an infant.
Population Growth to Secure the Regime
Sociologist Eli Khorsandfar says that a high population growth rate is favored by totalitarian regimes because it contributes to securing their rule.
However, she says, modern life and rapid changes in modern societies has made people less interested in having children. What is more, lack of financial and job security in Iran means parts of society are unwilling to have children or even to marry.
According to the sociologist, Islamic Republic’s propaganda and actions are aimed at two population groups: those share the ideological values of the Islamic Republic and the underprivileged, which also include members of the first group.
According to her, members of both groups might be receptive to the government’s programs and propaganda, but it appears they have not contributed to population growth as much as the government had hoped.
“Rejuvenation of the Population” Program and Its Adverse Health Consequences Directives and guidelines issued by the government ministries and agencies have had no effect on population growth and have had numerous adverse effects on the health of Iranian women. And if they lead to unwanted pregnancy, negative social consequences follow as well.”
Referring to the recent directive by the Ministry of Sciences and other actions to ban contraceptives and other ways to prevent pregnancy, public health expert Dr. Sahar Motallebi tells IranWire that in the past few decades Iranian women have had access to free consultation, guidance and what is necessary to prevent pregnancy. But now, with the government’s campaign to increase the population, access to such programs has become very limited and budgets for these programs have been cut off.
Meanwhile, no budget has been earmarked for a nationwide program to inoculate women with the HPV vaccine which, among other things, reduces the risk of cervical cancer. This has led to an increase in the number of HPV, or human papillomavirus, a group of more than 200 related viruses, and HIV infections. According to the Iranian Society of Gynecology Oncology, half of Iranian women with cervical cancer die.
Also, she says, restrictions on the screening of fetuses, imposed after the “Rejuvenation of the Population” law went into effect, has led to an increase in the number of births of genetically defective or disabled babies. This, in turn, has imposed enormous psychological and financial costs on the families and society.
Making Abortion a Crime
The Islamic Republic has also made abortion a crime. Except in very rare cases where a commission decides that the fetus is defective or the woman’s life is in danger, a person who has an abortion and anybody who “aids and abets” abortions are considered a criminal.
“If a doctor is involved in an intentional abortion his permit will be revoked, even if it is his first time,” said Saber Jaberi, the ministry’s head of Youth Population Department.
However, the rate of abortions in Iran has not subsided. In earlier April, Dr. Soleiman Heydari, a high-level official at the Ministry of Health, called the number of illegal abortions “catastrophic.” And, on April 24, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Saeed Karimi announced that more than 100 cases against individuals who have distributed contraceptives or played a role in abortions were sent to court. According to unofficial data, at least 600,000 women undergo “illegal” pregnancy terminations every year in Iran.
Dr. Motallebi says that underground abortions increase the number of women who die or suffer from permanent disabilities due to unsanitary conditions and bungled operations. Criminalizing abortion also increased the number of infanticides and abandoned babies and children.
Meanwhile, those who can afford it travel to neighboring countries to have an abortion without fear of being prosecuted.