Proposed Birth Control Laws Undermine Iranian Leader’s Environmental Message

iranian women engaged in traditional persian art form
Photo credit: Vladimir Melnik /


When Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, spoke on environmental issues this past weekend, he singled out human responsibility as the main cause of imbalance in ecological systems. So I was a bit mystified when I saw that Iran’s parliament was considering two laws that not only banned numerous family planning methods, but also legalized discrimination against childless women. Surely, this must just be an oversight on his part: as we’ve shown before, population growth leads to the very kind of ecological imbalance of which Khamenei spoke.

Nope… the Supreme Leader has, in fact, argued against very successful Iranian family planning programs that have been in place since the late 80s, labeling them “an imitation of a Western lifestyle.”

So, are these proposed birth control laws representative of Islam’s position on family planning? Just politics? Some of both? It’s complicated.

Islam and Family Planning

From just a bit of research, I’ve found two definitive statements I can make on this subject: Islam definitely promotes marriage and family, and the Quran doesn’t address the issue of family planning directly. It’s all a matter of interpretation (which, of course, means “It’s complicated.”). In general, most schools of Islamic thought don’t consider birth control a sin as long as it meets these criteria:

  1. Both partners in the marriage have chosen to delay having a family;
  2. No permanent harm is done to the body of either partner; and
  3. The choice to not have children isn’t based in financial insecurities (which shows a lack of faith in God’s willingness and ability to provide).

Certainly, some of the most conservative schools of Islamic thought do consider any form of birth control or family planning sinful, but almost all provide exceptions for the mother’s health.

While I can’t speak directly to the religious foundations of the Ayatollah’s pronouncements – I don’t know enough about the brand of Islam he follows and preaches – the fact that the very successful program in Iran mentioned was established well after the Islamic revolution of the late 1970s seems to support its religious acceptance.

So, Is This Just Politics?

Political concerns seem to play a stronger role in this movement. Khamenei himself has called for a doubling of the country’s population. And the notion that “a woman’s place is in the home” seems to have become more prevalent over the last decade or so. As Janet Larsen of Earth Policy Institute notes, though, Iran’s women have also become much more educated in the past few decades, so the notion that such limitations on family planning would automatically result in population growth isn’t guaranteed.

Not only are these policy proposals environmentally unsound, but they’e also a violation of basic human rights to self-determination. Let’s hope the government reconsiders this…

Got thoughts, either on the laws themselves, or their relationship to Islam? Share them with us…

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at