In a matter of one week in the U.S. and Iran, authorities have made decisions that restrain women's right to control their bodies. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of permitting family companies to deny employees insurance coverage for contraception in the name of religious freedom. Whereas, Iranian MPs ratified a bill last week which in case of becoming a law criminalizes any act that promotes or employs birth control tools and methods.
Based on the Iranian bill, every individual who does vasectomy or tubectomy (tubal ligation) could face 2-5 years of imprisonment. A policy change from the late 1980s and 1990s, when Iranian government implemented a comprehensive national family planning project, which based on UN reports, was one of the most successful population policies.
Family planning was a rational solution to the problem of a population boom resulting from political-religious preaches by the Islamic regime in the first decade after the 1979 Revolution. It led to the reduction of Iran's population growth rate from 3.2 in 1986 to 1.29 in 2010. It meant less pregnancy for Iranian women and thus more achievement in education; it could be a reason for Iranian women being 60 percent of college students since the 2000s.
However, two years ago Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei stated that the family planning was a mistake and that Iran's population needs a boost. Subsequently, conservative government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cut the birth control budget and Iranian parliament drafted a new bill to materialize supreme leader's decree. Finally, last week, the first step was taken towards a new law to restrict access to birth control for Iranian citizens.
Sociological facts demonstrate that women are almost always the main target of countries' population policies. In the case of Iran, those from lower income strata of the society such as rural and working class women would be the main affected by the new regulation. This group has been the primary beneficiary of Iran's national family planning, which provided them free contraception and reproductive health care during the last two decades. Eliminating these services would leave vulnerable women to struggle with frequent pregnancies, more children, unsafe abortions and will consequently will shrink their share of the education and job markets. Iranian women are currently suffering from low participation in the work force (around %13) because of undeveloped economy, discriminatory laws and cultural barriers. The population growth policies would deteriorate this dissatisfying economic situation for women and definitely would have a destructive impact on their families. For many Iranians financial condition worsened in recent years as a result of government's economic mismanagements and international sanctions against Iran.
Many Iranian women's activists believe that the new population policy aims to push women further back into the homes in order to minimize their social, political and economic activities. Their proof is Iranian officials' statements, including a female MP, that women are born to serve their husbands and children. A sentiment that, unfortunately, some in the U.S. may share with the Iranian officials.