A few months ago, I wrote about Iran’s efforts to reverse its declining fertility rate, already the most dramatic drop ever recorded.
This week the Guardian reports that the country’s parliament is considering “banning vasectomies and introducing punishments for those involved in encouraging contraceptive services and abortions.” While Iran's government is socially conservative on many other issues, contraception is currently widely available. Abortion is illegal in most circumstances, but not uncommon.
The measure, which seems likely to pass, follows comments by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he described contraception as an imitation of Western lifestyles and warned that "if we move forward like this, we will be a country of elderly people in a not too distant future."
Khamenei is right about his country’s aging population. The median age jumped more than six years to 20.8 between 2000 and 2010 and could hit 40 by 2030.
But it was his own predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa making birth control widely available in the late 1980s amid fears that the economy could no longer support a population that had been growing rapidly under the government’s previous, pro-natalist policies.
In other words, Iran has been on something of a demographic roller coaster since the 1979 revolutions. But given that fertility rates are falling everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa—albeit at a slower rate than Iran in most places—the new measures seem likely to lead to some more unwanted pregnancies without reversing the larger trend.