On November 16, 2021, Iranian president, Ibrahim Raisi, signed into law the rejuvenation of the population and support of the family bill, which sparked a backlash from human rights watchdogs, NGOs for women's rights, and HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy groups.
On November 1, 2021, the Guardian Council of Iran allowed the rejuvenation of the population and support of the family bill. The bill, when enacted, will prohibit sterilization and the distribution of free contraceptives in Iran's public health care system. The only outlined exception is when a pregnancy will threaten a woman's life.
The bill was approved by Iran's parliament on March 16 this year. According to the parliament, the law is designed to help alleviate Iran's declining birth rate. The Center for Strategic Research on Population of Iran estimates that the current birth rate of 0.6% will drop to zero in 10 to 15 years.
According to Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher for the Human Rights Watch, Iran's legislators are sidelining the more severe problems such as incompetence, corruption, and repression. Instead, they approved a law that "blatantly undermines the rights, dignity, and health of half of the country's population." Far added that the Iranian government is "denying them access to essential reproductive health care and information."
The law is also facing strong pushback from NGOs for its effect on women's reproductive rights. According to RadioFreeEurope, the new law will impose increased restrictions on abortion despite many Iranian women opting to have fewer children or none at all due to economic strains.
Talking to RadioFreeEurope, Gouya, whose real name is withheld, calls the new law "ridiculous." "Instead of resolving economic problems, they want to further interfere in our lives," she said. Gouya also explained that most Iranians such as herself are used to the restrictions. They tend to find ways to work around those restrictions, but this time it's different, she said. "It's none of their business. It's my decision," Gouya said.
But the most concerning opposition to the new law comes from an Iranian public health official.
Mas'ud Mardani, head of the Anti-Coronavirus Committee and the State Committee to Fight AIDS, warns that restricting the distribution of condoms in public health systems "will increase the spread of AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases."
Mardani is concerned that the law will undo years of effort to promote condoms by Iran's government and other advocacy groups. The law will likely make more individuals "highly vulnerable to HIV" and lead to an increase in cases of HIV infection.
A 2017 study showed that Iran's actual number of HIV infections and AIDS cases might not be accurate; actual numbers may be higher. A UNAIDS Country Progress Report on Iran for 2020 showed that although HIV prevalence among the general population is low, a significant increase in HIV cases among people who inject drugs in Iran still prevails.
Mardani said, adding to the situation is the shortening supply of antiretroviral medicines due to the pandemic and the government of Iran abandoning its management strategy against HIV/AIDS. The State Committee to Fight AIDS has not had any recent meetings to address national AIDS strategy, according to Mardani.