Bad news for Iranians wanting small families: The country plans to ban vasectomies and other permanent forms of birth control and punish all violators as criminals, the Washington Post reports. In fact any advertising of birth control will become illegal, Reuters notes, a stark turnaround for a nation that once promoted birth control and gave away condoms for free. So why is the Ayatollah Khamenei supporting the new bill and urging young Iranians to resist "undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles" by having bigger families? Because of Iran's low birthrate, which has sunk to 1.8 children per woman, a full 0.3 children less than is needed to keep up the present population, IRNA reports.
Iran had the opposite problem in the 1980s, when its population was growing too fast for the economy—so the government promoted birth control and required couples to have family-planning counseling before marriage. Women indeed had fewer babies, got more involved in the workforce, and eventually outnumbered men in higher education. "Government officials were wrong on this matter, and I, too, had a part," Khamenei said in 2012. "May God and history forgive us." Now critics say the new plan could cause a rise in abortions (which are only legal when a mother's life is at risk), and may force women out of the workplace into "traditional roles," reports the Post. Before taking effect, the bill needs approval from a council to ensure that it jibes with Islamic law.