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Ending a pregnancy has become a major complication, and a crime, for Iranian women who cannot or will not have children in a country wracked by socio-economic woes and a leadership.
Its (2021) Law to Support the Family and Rejuvenate the Population (Qanun-e hemayat az khanevadeh va javani-e jam'iyat) threatens to fine the women who want to abort, and fine, imprison, and dismiss the performing physician, if the pregnancy is not deemed to be life-threatening. The law also bans contraceptives.
The measures are in line with the dictates of Iran's Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He was already denouncing birth control policies by 2018-19, though conservative elements among Iran's rulers have always dismissed birth control as a piece of Western corruption.
Today, measures to boost families include land and credit incentives for young couples, but it is difficult to say how far they will counter a marked reluctance among Iranians to marry and procreate. Kayhan-London had an online conversation with individuals affected by the new rules in Iran.
From tolerance to ban
One retired gynacologist told me that in the late 1980s abortions hardly cost any money, suggesting there was no clampdown or a rigorous ban. He said a midwife at his practice performed the procedure (and was arrested for it years later).
One evening, he recalls, just before closing shop, a young couple with a "traditionalist" appearance entered the waiting room: she was a woman "firmly wrapped" in a chador — the traditional body-length veil worn by many women — and he, a "young man with a beard who looked like a pasdar" (a member of a militia or the Revolutionary guards).
When he told the young man to "take your wife's hand and take good care of her," he replied she wasn't his wife. The local preacher or mullah had made her pregnant and had sent her there for an abortion, he revealed.
The gynacologist said, "After Khamenei's order to boost the population, condoms disappeared from the market and if you could find one, they'd often have a tiny hole allowing sperm to leak through. Contraception pills became hard to find while some local companies reduced its components, making the pills less effective in preventing pregnancies."
A nurse working in Tehran says that in the years of the war with Iraq (1980-88) television preachers would urge Iranians to sire children to boost "the community of Muslims." She also recalled how one more prominent television personality changed tactic after the war, urging families to "mind the children's upbringing" instead.
There was "no shortage of condoms in those days," she says, and vasectomy and hysterectomy operations "were practically free". She recalls seeing 20 to 30 girls undergoing hysterectomy at a clinic in the province of Gilan in 1991, where she worked for a time. She also added that the WHO paid Iran aid money to implement family planning policies.
She said people would be fined in previous years for aborting "up to the 12th week," but the sum was not inordinate.
"No doctor dares perform a surgical abortion right now"
But things have changed radically since Khamenei's declarations. She said that the price of medicines which can be used to provoke a medical abortion has risen 30-fold or more. Using medicines, she said, was the only way to end a pregnancy at present, in spite of its risks.
"No doctor dares perform a surgical abortion right now... if anything were to happen to the patient with the abortion, and she (sought) a reimbursement or revenge or to take the physician to court, the doctor could be heavily punished," she said.
October 8, 2022, New York: A protester holds a sign that reads ''Wanted: Freedom For the Women of USA, Iran and All Of the Planet Earth!!!''
Gina M Randazzo/ZUMA
I also spoke to a 43-year-old gym teacher, who told me she had had two abortions in her life, once in Turkey and another time in Tehran, using pills. Abortions were now illegal in Iran, she said, "but not impossible."
"This means politicizing life, or giving the state power over bodies"
She had her first abortion in Turkey "after myriad complications" as her boyfriend then refused to contemplate raising a child. Her second abortion happened three years ago, while married, when her husband told her to do it. "He was right of course. Our economic conditions were so difficult at the time. I had to abort with a pill," she says. The pill in question wasn't hard to find, and abortion, she adds, turned out to be easier, but far more painful, in Tehran. The woman has one child now.
A young office worker joins our conversation and says that after one abortion, she went for a blood test to check if she was pregnant again. The clinic, she said, told her she must register with her ID, which she said was a novelty. She duly found out that clinics now want a list of all pregnant women, to ensure "they had valid reasons" should they later ask to abort. "This means politicizing life, or giving the state power over bodies," she said.
A jurist said the country's laws are now harsher on professionals performing an abortion than on ordinary people seeking, or aiding, the practice. The Iranian regime is pushing healthcare professionals to "take responsibility for the ban on abortion," he said.
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