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Spain approves menstrual leave, teen abortion and trans laws

Irene Montero
Spain’s equality minister, Irene Montero, was the driving force behind the legislation expanding abortion and transgender rights for teens, and allowing workers to take paid menstrual leave.
(Manu Fernandez / Associated Press)
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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 of United We Can, the junior party in Spain’s left-wing coalition government.

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.

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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 performed 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 nations in Europe on reproductive rights.

Spain’s constitutional court last week rejected a challenge by the right-wing Popular Party, which opposes allowing abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Spain will soon enact a new law banning the intimidation or harassment of women entering abortion clinics.

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 12 and 13 years old will need a judge’s authorization to change, while those who are 14 to 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 lesbian and single women seeking IVF treatment.

Spain may implement days off for monthly menstrual pain. But don’t expect U.S. women to clamor for such leave — menstrual stigma is still a thing.

The center-left coalition government is 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.

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