Iranian Anti-Abortion Laws Aren't Particularly Effective


In Iran, abortion is illegal unless the life of the mother is in danger or if the fetus has a birth defect deemed serious enough to warrant medical intervention. Punishment for having a criminal abortion is nothing to sneeze at, either; offenders can find themselves behind bars for 3 to 10 years. So how are Iranian women coping with these restrictions? By getting abortions anyway, and sometimes dying as a result. See? Anti-abortion legislation works.

A report published by the Guttmacher Institute last month details the rate of induced (criminal) abortion among married women in Tehran. The study was conducted to help determine what socioeconomic groups could best benefit from additional education and access to birth control, but it’s also a telling testament to the lack of effectiveness of anti-choice legislation in eliminating abortions entirely.

Nearly 3,000 married Tehran women were interviewed for the study. From that population, researchers extrapolated that married women in Tehran have about 11,500 abortions annually, and the city’s rate of abortions-per-pregnancy was holding steady at about 1 in every 11. The researchers also assumed that the number of abortions obtained by younger Iranian women who became pregnant before marriage was likely underreported. Women in their 30’s had more abortions than other groups, and women that were more highly educated tended to terminate more often than their less educated counterparts, probably because educated, wealthy women likely have better access to an illegal, clandestine, and expensive procedure. Because abortion is usually illegal and unsafe, some estimate that 1 in 20 pregnancy complication related deaths are due to abortions gone awry.

A 2008 report estimated that 1 in 4 Iranian women will receive an abortion over the course of their lifetime. Stateside, it’s 1 in 3. The difference between what’s available to women in Iran and what’s available here is that here, we have access to safe, effective procedures, and in Iran, desperate women risk serious complications and death.

If anti-choice politicians get their way, soon America’s laws around abortion might resemble those in Iran’s theocracy, which is funny in a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry way because the political right, the contingent known for producing a candidate calling for America to “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” sort of wants America’s attitude toward its women to mirror the attitudes in the country they want to bomb so very much. See? Even bitter enemies can join hands and sing Kum Ba Ya about how cool it is to tell women what to do.

So what can we learn from all this? Could it be that women have been terminating pregnancies for just as long as women have been getting pregnant? And that women seeking abortions will get them regardless of their legality, and erecting legal and social barriers between women and their right to bodily self-determination won’t save any fetuses?

Induced Abortion in Iran: Estimated Rates and Correlates [Guttmacher]

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