Contraception will be free, while women over 16 can have an abortion and time off for painful periods under a controversial new law in Spain
The Spanish government yesterday approved a draft abortion law, reviving an issue that has divided society despite the waning influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
The legislation will allow women aged 16 and over to resign without their parents’ permission, and will make Spain the first country in Europe to give women lay-offs if they suffer from painful periods.
The reform, which awaits MEPs’ final approval, aims to ensure that abortion is available to all users of the public health system and that menstruation is treated as a real health problem.
Spain’s liberal abortion legislation contrasts with the United States, where the Supreme Court is expected to scrap abortion rights.
“The days of [women] going to work in pain is over,” said Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister, at a news conference.
Critics in Spain have suggested that women taking time off work for periods could be stigmatized by supervisors or that this would be difficult to implement in practice. Even the government that introduced the law is at odds over whether menstrual leave helps – or hinders – women.
Nadia Calviño, the socialist economy minister, said: “The government will not take any measures that stigmatize women.” She said the reform is still “under discussion”.
In contrast, Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz, one of the leaders of the far-left Together We Can party, the junior party in the Spanish coalition government, signaled her support.
“I think it’s stigmatizing [women] not having enough sensitivity to understand that men and women are different and that the world of work is not neutral,” she said.
About a third of women in Spain suffer from dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation, according to the Spanish Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“We are not talking about minor complaints here. We are talking about severe symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and severe headaches,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Equal Opportunities.
Last year, municipalities like Castellon, near Valencia, and Girona, in Catalonia, were among the first in Western Europe to introduce exemptions for women with painful periods.
The legislation will also replace a 2015 reform of the abortion law that would require women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent for abortions.
Abortion on request is allowed up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, but the bill removes a three-day cooling-off period.
Contraceptive pills, which cost up to €20 (£16) in pharmacies, will be free in the National Health Service.
The law will also establish a formal registry of doctors who wish to opt out of performing abortions on religious grounds.
Doctors are currently permitted to oppose abortion as “conscientious objectors” for moral or professional reasons.
Some women have to travel all over Spain for abortions or private treatments.
dr Marta Vigara, a doctor at Madrid’s Clinico San Carlos public hospital, had to go to a private clinic for an abortion despite having lost amniotic fluid and being at serious risk to herself and the fetus.
“It’s been like this for years and years and now this law can help women instead of making it difficult for us,” she told i.
There were 88,269 abortions in 2020, slightly fewer than normal because of the pandemic, but 84.5 percent were performed in private health centers, according to Spain’s Health Ministry.
Eva María Martin, a pharmacist who heads the National Association for the Defense of Conscientious Objectors, a group that defends medical objectors, said “a large number of doctors” are opposed to abortion.
“No one who practices this profession to protect life will advocate abortion,” said Ms. Martín, who has nine children.
“Giving 16-year-olds the right to an abortion without letting their parents know is ridiculous. They are children who need their parents when they are in a situation like this.”
Archbishop Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church, called the new law “barbaric”.
A recent poll showed that 55 percent of Spaniards identified as Catholic, the lowest number in history.