MADRID — Spain’s parliament on Thursday approved legislation expanding abortion and transgender rights for teenage girls, while making Spain the first country in Europe to give working women the right to paid menstrual leave.
The driving force behind both laws was Equality Minister Irene Montero, who belongs to the junior member of Spain’s left-wing coalition government, the ‘Unite We Can’ party.
Changes to sexual and reproductive rights mean that 16- and 17-year-olds in Spain can now have an abortion without parental consent. Menstrual products will now be offered free of charge in schools and prisons, while public health centers will do the same with hormonal contraceptives and the morning after pill. The menstrual leave measure allows workers suffering from debilitating menstrual pain to take paid leave.
In addition, the amendments enshrine in law the right to have an abortion in a public hospital. Currently, more than 80% of termination procedures in Spain are performed in private clinics due to a high number of doctors in the public system refusing to perform them – many citing religious reasons.
Under the new system, doctors in public hospitals will not be forced to perform abortions, provided they have already registered their objections in writing.
The abortion law builds on legislation passed in 2010 that represented a major shift for a traditionally Catholic country, turning Spain into one of Europe’s most progressive countries on reproductive rights. Spain’s Constitutional Court last week rejected a challenge by the right-wing People’s Party against allowing abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
A separate set of reforms also approved by lawmakers on Thursday strengthened transgender rights, including allowing any citizen over the age of 16 to change their legally registered gender without medical supervision.
Minors between 12 and 13 will need permission from the judge to change, while those between 14 and 16 must be accompanied by their parents or legal guardians.
Previously, transgender people needed to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria by multiple doctors. The second law also bans so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ people and provides state support for lesbians and single women who want IVF treatment.
The centre-left coalition government is currently being criticized for another of Montero’s star bills, a new sexual consent law that was intended to increase protections against rape but inadvertently allowed hundreds of sex offenders to see their prison sentences reduced.
The “Only Yes Means Yes” law makes verbal consent the key element in cases of alleged sexual assault. The government is now struggling to come up with a modified version and end the controversy before the election later this year.
All three initiatives have met with strong opposition from right-wing parties that form Spain’s main opposition bloc.