Attempts to buy contraceptives in Iran

The past few days in Iran have been peppered with reports of contraceptives being blocked from sale apparently due to an alarming combination of shortages, a new policy blocking over-the-counter sales and the downside Present the so-called “morale patrols” who try to deter buyers.

A spokesman for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration has tried to calm the situation, stating, “The sale of contraceptives has not been banned, but pharmacies are not allowed to sell them over-the-counter or without a doctor’s prescription.”

IranWire citizen journalists visited a number of drugstores in different Iranian provinces. Based on what they could gather, “free” meant for single women without a prescription and neither accompanied by a man nor able to pay an effective bribe. There were also major bottlenecks in disadvantaged areas.

A reporter in Shiraz this week visited eight different pharmacies in the central and western zones of the city. “A pharmacy in the center and one in the west still had pills for sale,” they said. “But the rest said they were going out.”

In Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan, a citizen journalist told IranWire that a state-run 24-hour pharmacy in a busy commercial area refuses to sell oral contraceptives without a prescription. Two other major drugstores said they were out of stock.

“We can’t sell birth control to women because it’s illegal and would get us in trouble,” a pharmacist in Nik Shahr, Sistan and Balochistan, told one of her regular customers. In the next breath they said: “The ban applies nationwide, but here we would sell to men we know.”

This worker confirmed that there was also a “serious” nationwide shortage and it would be “very difficult” for her to find over-the-counter contraceptives anywhere in the province.

Another pharmacy in the nearby town of Fanuj also told a citizen journalist that it had no contraceptives for sale. She was told to go further north to Iranshahr and inquire there.

There, a pharmacist claimed that in order to buy any contraceptive at all, a woman “must have a prescription or be accompanied by her husband.” They continued: “The cost has tripled and many people cannot afford it. Nationwide sales restrictions have also been imposed.”

Elsewhere in Sistan and Balochistan, in the port city of Chah Bahar, a pharmacist first sold oral contraceptives to a woman. “He said he had HD, LD and Yasmin pills,” she told IranWire. “After I insisted for some time, he sold me LD pills for double the price but told me I could no longer buy them without a prescription – and there was a shortage across the province.”

Another pharmacy in Chah Bahar only sold pills to a woman after she produced a prescription. “Demand is high and there is a shortage,” she was told.

Other pharmacies in that city confirmed that contraceptives had become too expensive for most people to afford and consequently for them to stock. New guidelines – such as hiding condoms under the counter – had also hampered sales.

A case of violence against women

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a women’s rights activist and former reformist MP, told IranWire about the new, restrictive environment: “Unfortunately, in such situations, the poor suffer the most. Wealthy women who can afford it find contraceptive alternatives. Underprivileged women cannot do this. One of the main slogans of the Islamic Revolution was social justice and an end to class inequality, but it never came to that.”

In the more than four decades since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the state has always played a crucial role in women’s reproductive decisions. “Fewer children, more life” was the demand at first; however, after the 1980-88 war with Iraq, the landscape changed. Tehran, it was decided, needed more soldiers.

After a boom in child births in the early 1990s, a pragmatic attempt was made in the 1990s under Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to curb Iran’s population growth. But from the early 2010s, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei let his obsession with population growth run wild.

“The families, the young people, need to reproduce more,” Khamenei demanded in 2017. “If we can preserve the young generation of today for tomorrow, all the country’s problems will be solved by the willingness, joy, zeal and talent of the.” new generation of Iranians.” He has since claimed that Iran in its current state could support a population of 150 million – compared to 83 million today, where almost a third live in abject poverty.

Hard-line politicians have since pushed through a series of draconian measures aimed at encouraging more children to be born in Iran. Most recently, these emerged in 2021 in the “Family Protection and Youth Law,” an unprecedented set of family planning restrictions aimed at forcing more Iranian women to give birth.

Haghighatjoo described the new restrictions on contraceptive sales and the state’s criminalization of elective abortion as a form of violence against women. “Sometimes a state might have policies to reduce the population and other times to increase it,” she said. “But what is important is how these policies are implemented.

“In fact, Iran’s population control policy has been very well implemented and has even been praised by the United Nations. China had done the same but used force to enforce it, while Iran pursued a policy of encouragement. If the government fixes the economy, encouraging population growth might work, but instead the Iranian government is using methods that make the situation worse.”

Obstacles to contraception have pushed many Iranian women toward illegal abortions. Even official statistics acknowledge this point; On June 27, the secretary of Tehran’s Strategic Population Council said at least 370,000 “mostly” illegal abortions take place annually. the annual abortion rate in Iran is around 370,000, “most of them criminal and illegal”.

However, this did not force new learning. On August 6, Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi announced that the district courts would henceforth be tasked with prosecuting and assisting in the “crime” of abortion, including by providing unauthorized contraceptives.

“For her [the Iranian authorities]’ said Haghighatjoo, ‘human life has no value or dignity. This is particularly true for women, who are seen as the “second sex” and the target of violence. The fact that they mediate over women’s bodies is a violation of women’s rights and a clear act of violence against them.”

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