Spain recently made international headlines for proposed reforms to its law on sexual and reproductive health and the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.
If passed, the new legislation — which includes expanded abortion rights, comprehensive sex education, paid menstrual leave, and tangible efforts to fight period poverty — will be a victory for those fighting for gender equality and the United Nations’ Global Goal 5. Advocates say the implementation of such policies advances women’s empowerment and bodily autonomy.
The Spanish Council of Ministers approved the draft reform of the Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy in May. Among various revisions, it notably grants 16- and 17-year-olds access to abortion without their parents' authorization, and would make Spain the first European country where women can obtain paid sick leave days in the event of painful periods.
The bill will go to debate in parliament, and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s administration hopes it will officially become law by the end of the year.
The law’s modifications come as a result of efforts to break the stigma and politicization of medical issues such as abortion and menstrual health in the country, according to Spain's coalition government. It also further illuminates the relationship between these issues and poverty.
Abortion was decriminalized in Spain in 1985, but the current law, last amended in 2010, includes various restrictions and requirements that can delay and even impede the process, including a three-day "period of reflection" before the medical procedure is performed. Additionally, because many doctors in the public health system declare "conscientious objection," 85% of abortions in Spain are performed in private clinics, which charge 300 euros for the procedure.
As a result, people living in poverty in Spain effectively don’t have the same access to abortion as those who can afford it, which leads them to seek dangerous or unsafe methods.
Following the US Supreme Court's June 24 ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected the constitutional right to safe abortion across the country for nearly 50 years, many world leaders pointed out that restricting abortion doesn't lead to fewer abortions; instead, it leads to more unsafe abortions. An estimated 25 million unsafe abortions take place around the world every year, causing the hospitalization of about 7 million people and nearly 8% of all maternal deaths globally.
Spain’s Minister for Equality Irene Montero said that with this new law, "rights will now be guaranteed and extended, and existing obstacles to exercising the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy will be removed."
Hoy aprobamos una nueva ley del aborto para que todas las mujeres puedan vivir mejor. Más educación sexual, más salud menstrual, más corresponsabilidad en la anticoncepción, acceso efectivo al derecho al aborto, más derechos sexuales y reproductivos. pic.twitter.com/yigyiKH1Fl— Irene Montero (@IreneMontero) May 17, 2022
“It is a law to guarantee women's sexual and reproductive rights, which are a fundamental measure of the democratic quality of a country. The right to decide on our own bodies is part of our fundamental right to health but it is also the gateway to the exercise of many other rights in women's daily lives,” she said.
Spain also recently approved a bill known as “Only Yes Means Yes," in which sex without explicit consent could be considered aggression and subject to up to 15 years in prison.
“The government and the feminist majority in Congress are here to make our country a freer place for women,” Montero said.
What Is the Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy?
In its current form, the Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy was passed by Spanish Parliament in 2010 to protect and defend sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as defined by the World Health Organization's guidelines. It sought to provide a foundation for intiatives across Spain that revolve around health and education.
“Sexuality and procreation are directly connected to human dignity and to the right to personal growth and development," Juan Carlos I, the King of Spain, wrote in the law's preamble.
"These entitlements are protected by several fundamental rights, namely those guaranteeing physical and moral integrity and family and personal privacy. Whether and when to have children is among the most personal and private decisions individuals can make. It is also a decision falling completely within the realm of self-determination. Governments are required not to interfere with them and to provide conditions, including counseling and health services, for these decisions to be made freely and responsibly."
Más feminismo, más derechos para las mujeres. Solo así construiremos un país mejor y frenaremos a los negacionistas y reaccionarios.— Irene Montero (@IreneMontero) May 30, 2022
Hoy Leire Pajín escribe sobre el avance que supone la Ley 'Solo sí es sí'. Seguimos, juntas a por más derechos👇https://t.co/PX8nQUuguApic.twitter.com/15ZNaxTjQk
With the proposed changes this year, the Spanish government hopes to further recognize those fundamental rights, moving toward the goal of providing universal access to comprehensive SRHR.
Below, we break down the main amendments and how they could impact everyone, especially women and girls living in poverty, across Spain.
Abortion Rights and Maternal Health
If the new bill is implemented, safe abortions will be guaranteed in the public health system, and anyone aged 16 years and older will be able to terminate a pregnancy without needing their parents' permission.
The mandatory three days of reflection, from the moment a woman requests an abortion to reaffirm her decision, is eliminated. A previously required envelope with information about maternity rights, benefits, and public aid to continue with a pregnancy will only be given to people who request it.
Those who terminate their pregnancies will be entitled to a period of sick leave, and comprehensive and specialized assistance will be provided. Health centers will distribute emergency contraception pills free of charge and in sexual and reproductive health services centers. (Currently, women need to go to a pharmacy and pay 20 euros to access it.)
The new law would allow abortions to be performed in public hospitals and in those closest to a woman's home, in order to prevent her from needing to travel hundreds of kilometers to specific clinics. A public and private registry of conscientious objectors will be created to ensure that hospitals always have personnel available to perform abortions.
In terms of prenatal and maternal health, additional paid leave will be available starting from the 39th week of gestation, and will not take away from maternity leave days after birth. Good practices will be promoted to prevent "obstetric violence," meaning mistreatment or violation of rights, at all stages of pregnancy with emphasis on childbirth and postpartum.
Advertisements will be prohibited from companies that promote access to surrogacy — which is illegal in Spain, where the government considers it violence against women — or surrogacy in countries where the practice is legal.
The bill also officially considers any forced pregancies, abortions, or sterilization of women with disabilities as violence against women.
Contraception and Sex Education
The bill enforces Social Security to cover costs of the latest generation of contraceptive pills, and male contraceptive methods will be promoted. It will also enact comprehensive sex education in schools, especially with regard to the issue of consent.
Barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms, will be distributed free of charge in educational centers as part of sex education campaigns. The government will also create public centers for specialized sexual and reproductive health care, as well as a phone hotline.
Training in sexual and menstrual education will be provided to teachers, prison officials, and public workers.
Paid Menstrual Leave and Fighting Period Poverty
With the new bill, Spain is poised to become the first European country to incorporate sick leave for painful periods, which will be included in the catalog of causes for “temporary incapacity.”
A medical diagnosis will accompany the leave, and women won’t need to access it within an obligatory number of days. Costs associated with menstrual leave will be covered by the government.
The bill additionally seeks to combat period poverty, also known as menstrual poverty — the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, or waste management. Menstrual hygiene products will be distributed free of charge in high schools, prisons, women's centers, civic centers, social centers, and public agencies.
How Does This Relate to the Fight to End Extreme Poverty?
Lack of access to SRHR is deeply linked to poverty. Access to comprehensive health care, including free menstrual products and safe abortions, can change the course of a person's life, helping girls stay in school, delay marriage, and lift themselves and future generations out of poverty.
With its amendments to the Organic Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy, the Spanish government sends a message to countries around the world that expanding SRHR as a fundamental human right is critical.
Global Citizen campaigns on gender equality, bodily autonomy, and the full spectrum of SRHR in the pursuit of the elimination of extreme poverty. You can take action with us right now by calling on leaders around the world to invest in sexual and reproductive health.