Over the past decade, Iran has shifted its population policy from providing family planning and access to contraception to limiting women's access to sexual and reproductive health care.
In an effort to boost its birth rate, Iran has passed a parliamentary bill that bans family-planning programmes, restricts access to contraceptives and tightens abortion regulations.
Human Rights Watch has urged Iran to repeal provisions of new legislation that it says undermine women's rights, dignity, and health, denying them access to reproductive health care and information.
"Iranian legislators are avoiding addressing Iranians' many serious problems, including government incompetence, corruption, and repression, and instead are attacking women's fundamental rights," Tara Sepehri Far, a senior Iran researcher at HRW, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The population growth law blatantly undermines the rights, dignity and health of half of the country's population, denying them access to essential reproductive health care and information," she added.
What is the new law?
First approved by parliament in March, the "rejuvenation of the population and support of family" bill was backed by Iran's Guardians Council on November 1.
It is set to become law when it is signed and published in the official gazette, which HRW says is expected within this month.
The legislation bans sterilisation and free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system unless a pregnancy threatens a woman's health.
By adding to existing limits on access to contraception and abortion, the legislation violates women's rights to sexual and reproductive health and puts women's health and lives at risk, according to the New York-based human rights watchdog.
Access to safe abortion
Several articles of the bill also "further limit already restricted access to safe abortion," HRW said.
The legislation mandates the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to identify illegal abortion cases, illegal sale of abortion drugs, and websites that provide the list of abortion centres.
Under the current law, abortion can be legally performed during the first four months of pregnancy if three doctors agree that a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or the foetus has severe physical or mental disabilities that would create extreme hardship for the mother.
Benefits to families with children
The bill lists various incentives to families with children, including increased employment benefits for pregnant women and those who breastfeed.
It prohibits firing or transferring a working woman during pregnancy against her will.
It provides nine months of fully paid maternity leave in all sectors, an option for working from home for up to four months during pregnancy, and an option to take leave for medical appointments for women with children under age 7.
But it does not address the lack of anti-discrimination provisions in hiring practices, which can keep women out of the workforce.
Human Rights Watch research in 2017 showed that the absence of a comprehensive legal framework in this area allows public and private sector employers to openly adopt discriminatory hiring practices against women.
An effort to force women into their traditional roles?
The bill also prohibits the production of any kind of cultural material against the country’s population policies.
It appointed Iran’s state broadcasting agency to produce programmes encouraging women to have children and denouncing decisions to remain single, have fewer children, or have abortions.
It also mandates the Education and Higher Science Ministries to produce education material on those topics, and to research on the benefits of increased childbearing and harm caused by contraceptives and abortion.
The country's ministries are also tasked with increasing education majors at universities “consistent with women’s role in the Iranian culture including managing family and the house.”