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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Iran liberalises laws on abortion
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian parliament
A little over half of Iran's parliament backed the law
The Iranian parliament has voted to liberalise the country's abortion laws.

Under the law approved on Tuesday, a pregnancy can be terminated in the first four months if the foetus is mentally or physically handicapped.

Both parents must give their consent and three doctors to confirm that the foetus is damaged.

The law was approved by just over half of the conservative-dominated parliament, and still has to be approved by the Guardian Council.

The council is an unelected supervisory committee which vets all bills to see if they are in line with Islamic law.

Previously, abortion was only allowed if the mother's life was proven to be in danger.

Stringent conditions

None of the 13 women in the Iranian parliament took part in the debate. The conditions for allowing abortion still remain very stringent.

Both parents must agree and they need three doctors, as well as the coroner's office, to confirm the foetus is damaged or the mother's life at risk.

Under this new bill, even if a woman is pregnant as a result of rape she still doesn't have the right to an abortion.

Under the existing law, an illegal abortionist and the mother in question can be sentenced to between three to 10 years in jail.

But according to the local media that hasn't stopped tens of thousands of Iranian women undertaking expensive and sometimes dangerous backstreet abortions.

There is growing concern that Iran needs more sex education to tackle this social problem but the religious debate has centred more on when the foetus in the mother's womb is deemed to have developed a soul - with some leading clerics saying this happens only after four months of gestation.

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