Spain approves menstrual leave, teen abortion and trans laws

MADRID (AP) – Spain’s parliament on Thursday passed legislation expanding abortion and transgender rights for teenagers, making Spain the first country in Europe to give workers the right to paid menstrual leave.

The driving force behind the two laws was Equality Minister Irene Montero, who belongs to the junior member of 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 have abortions without parental consent. Menstrual products are now being offered free in schools and prisons, and state health centers are offering hormonal contraceptives and the morning-after pill. The menstrual leave measure allows employees who suffer from severe menstrual pain to take paid time off.

The amendments also enshrine in law the right to have an abortion in a state hospital. Currently, more than 80% of abortion procedures in Spain are performed in private clinics, as a high number of doctors in the public system refuse to perform it – on many religious grounds.

Under the new system, doctors in state hospitals will not be forced to perform abortions if they have already given written notice of their objection.

The abortion law builds on legislation passed in 2010 that represented a major change for a traditionally Catholic country, transforming Spain into one of the most progressive countries in Europe when it comes to reproductive rights. Spain’s constitutional court last week rejected a lawsuit by the right-wing People’s Party against allowing abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

A separate package of reforms, also approved by lawmakers on Thursday, strengthened the rights of transgender people, including allowing any citizen over the age of 16 to change their legally registered gender without medical supervision.

Minors between the ages of 12 and 13 need authorization from a judge to switch, while those between the ages of 14 and 16 must be accompanied by their parents or legal guardians.

Previously, transgender people required a diagnosis from multiple doctors for 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 centre-left coalition government is currently under fire over another of Montero’s star projects, a new sexual consent law that was intended to increase protections against rape but has inadvertently allowed prison sentences to be reduced for hundreds of sex offenders.

The Only Yes Means Yes Act makes verbal consent a key component in cases of alleged sexual assault. The government is now trying to come up with an amended version and end the controversy ahead of elections later this year.

The three initiatives face strong opposition from right-wing parties, which form Spain’s main opposition bloc.

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