Country Profile – Iran

Law related to Abortion :

Abortion can be done only during the first four months if the fetus is mentally or physically handicapped or if the mother’s life is in danger. The legal abortion services are provided only for married women but husband’s consent is NOT needed.

Policy :

The Iranian parliament has ratified some laws in recent years, including the Therapeutic Abortion Act on June 21, 2005. The new law in Iran permits termination of pregnancy during the first four months if the fetus is mentally or physically handicapped or if the mother’s life is in danger. According to the new law, the woman’s consent is sufficient to carry out the abortion. However, three specialists must confirm that the fetus is disabled or the mother has a life-threatening condition. A high proportion of the requests for abortion is made in the first trimester and the new law will facilitate the process when there are genetic disorders or serious maternal disease.

Under the Penal Code of 1991, which is based on Islamic law, abortion for any other reason is categorized as a lesser crime involving bodily injury (oisas), which is punishable by the payment of blood money or compensation (diyah). Compensation is paid to the victim or, in the case of the victim’s death, to the victim’s relatives.

Reproductive Health Perspective :

In July 2012, Iran’s government announced that it would no longer fund family planning programs, a dramatic reversal following 20 years of support. The change is especially abrupt for a country that has been lauded as a family planning success story, with thorough rural health services and an educated female population contributing to one of the swiftest demographic transitionsin history. Once family planning services are as widely available and adopted as they have been in Iran, demand for them is well entrenched and unlikely to ebb. Use of family planning offers several benefits that are tangible to individuals and families as well as societies: It improves the health of women and children while also promoting higher educational attainment and household incomes. From a demographic perspective, the government’s attempt to make family planning services unavailable or unaffordable is unlikely to meet their stated objective of motivating larger families and higher population growth.

The government has already tried a more common approach for boosting fertility rates, offering direct payments to families for each child at birth and each successive year until adulthood. Such financial incentives have been implemented in several other low fertility countries, but as demographer John May has noted, they are typically much less effective compared to more comprehensive approaches addressing child care, work-family balance, and housing.

Abortion Statistics :

Health Ministry officials say that about 80,000 legal and illegal abortions are made in Iran annually. About 17 percent of the country’s 1.2 million births are unwanted. In Iran, where abortion is severely restricted by law, married women aged 15–49 have an estimated 73,000 abortions per year, according to a recent analysis of nationally representative data. This translates to 0.26 lifetime abortions per woman. However, the abortion rate varies widely among Iran’s provinces, depending largely on regional levels of religiosity and modern contraceptive use.

Methods used :

Methods used for abortion are dilatation and curettage (D&C), Electric Vacuum Aspiration (EVA), manual vacuum aspiration (MVA), Medical methods of abortion MMA with Misoprostol.

In the case of illegal abortions, post-operative care is available in Iran’s public and private hospitals as part of primary health care. Health care providers do not feel compelled to report illegal abortions to authorities and these cases are not prosecuted unless someone records a grievance. The use of prostaglandin instead of curettage to induce abortion has significantly reduced the maternal mortality rate in Iran, even in cases of illegal abortion.

Role of government :

Iran is the first Islamic country in contemporary times that has attempted to combine principles of theocracy and religious law with representative, parliamentary democracy. Abortion for medical reasons to save the life of the mother has always been permitted in Islam. What is new about these current rulings and legislation in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran is that it specifies and broadens the conditions for which a mother or family may seek a therapeutic abortion. More importantly, for the first time, fetal viability and social hardships have been considered reasons for requesting a therapeutic abortion.

Role of religion/ religious leaders :

All scholars, from the four Sunni and the Shiite schools of thought, agree that after the fourth month of gestation an abortion cannot be performed unless it is to save the mother’s life. This is true, according to classical jurisprudence and contemporary scholarship. The disagreements are related to the status of the fetus before 4 months of gestation.

Traditionally, Shiite scholars did not allow abortion before 4 months either. Among contemporary Sunni scholars, there is still disagreement on when an abortion is permissible without payment of tort, and after which point it is no longer allowed, with exceptions as noted earlier. There is a range of opinions on whether it is even a sin to abort a fetus before, at the very least, 40 days. Nearly all jurists agree that wanton abortion is to be discouraged, and that there should be a good reason for an abortion—namely, the mother’s health—even before 4 months of gestation. The contemporary Shiite Ayatollahs are nearly unanimous in their rulings on abortion before 4 months of gestation, and this is discussed in detail later.

Current status and potential of research :

Despite severe restrictions on abortion in Iran, there are many researchers on abortion related issues inside and outside the country.

Awareness amongst community members :

To reduce unsafe abortions, the Ministry of Health of Iran needs to tailor the current health and family planning policies and programs in the short run in the way that to develop more sensitive and local programs targeting certain provinces and areas with high abortion rates. As practical actions, modern contraceptives should be supplied in provinces with high fertility and low prevalence of contraceptive use, such as provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan, Hormuzgan and Bushehr. In addition, family planning services and contraceptive information need to be improved among urban and employed women through health centers, places of work and media. Also, the urban and employed women should be encouraged to shift from traditional to modern methods and be trained about use of emergency pill in the case of a risky intercourse. The emphasis could be placed on modern contraceptive methods and emergency contraception in the required counseling for pre- and post-marital couples. Finally, development of effective programs to deal with health consequences of unsafe and clandestine abortions requires precise information, which should be provided by further researches focusing on health and economic consequences of abortion.

Role of member organization / individual :

Due to severe restrictions on abortion in Iran, there are no organization/ individual activities on abortion related issues.