NICOSIA: Human Rights Watch warned yesterday that a new Iranian law aimed at raising the birth rate would put women's lives at risk by denying them access to reproductive health care. The bill, which is expected to become law later this month, provides various additional benefits to families with children and outlaws sterilization and free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system unless a pregnancy threatens a woman's health.

"Iranian legislators are avoiding addressing Iranians' many serious problems, including government incompetence, corruption and repression, and instead are attacking women's fundamental rights," said HRW's senior Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far. "The population growth law blatantly undermines the rights, dignity and health of half of the country's population, denying them access to essential reproductive health care and information."

Over the past decade, Iran has shifted its population policy from providing family planning and access to contraception, to boosting the population growth by limiting women's access to sexual and reproductive health care. HRW said that several articles in the new legislation further limit already restricted access to safe abortion.

Currently, abortion can be legally performed during the first four months of pregnancy if three doctors agree that a pregnancy threatens a woman's life or the foetus has severe physical or mental disabilities that would create extreme hardship for the mother. - AFP