The Spanish parliament on Thursday approved legislation expanding abortion and transgender rights for teenagers, while making Spain the first country in Europe that will entitle workers to paid menstrual leave.
The driving force behind the two laws was Equality Minister Irene Montero, who belongs to the junior member in Spain’s left-wing coalition government, the “United We Can” Party.
The changes to sexual and reproductive rights mean that 16- and 17-year-olds in Spain can now undergo an abortion without parental consent. Period products will now be offered free in schools and prisons, while state-run health centers will do the same with hormonal contraceptives and the morning after pill. The menstrual leave measure allows workers suffering debilitating period pain to take paid time off.
In addition, the changes enshrine in law the right to have an abortion in a state hospital. Currently more than 80% of termination procedures in Spain are carried out in private clinics due to a high number of doctors in the public system who refuse to perform them — with many citing religious reasons.
Under the new system, state hospital doctors won’t be forced to carry out abortions, provided they’ve 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, transforming Spain into one of the most progressive countries in Europe on reproductive rights. Spain’s constitutional court last week rejected a challenge by the right-wing Popular Party against allowing abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
A separate package of reforms also approved by lawmakers on Thursday strengthened transgender rights, including allowing any citizen over 16 years old to change their legally registered gender without medical supervision.
Minors between 12-13 years old will need a judge’s authorization to change, while those between 14 and 16 must be accompanied by their parents or legal guardians.
Previously, transgender people needed a diagnosis by several doctors of gender dysphoria. The second law also bans so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ people and provides state support for lesbians and single women seeking IVF treatment.
The center-left coalition government is currently under fire for another of Montero’s star projects, a new sexual consent law that was intended to increase protection against rape but has inadvertently allowed hundreds of sex offenders to have prison sentences reduced.
The “Only Yes Means Yes” Law makes verbal consent the key component in cases of alleged sexual assault. The government is now struggling to come up with an amended version and end the controversy ahead of elections later this year.
The three initiatives have met strong opposition from the right-wing parties that form Spain’s main opposition bloc.