The Spanish government has unveiled a reform which seeks to loosen existing abortion restrictions and provide paid leave for women who suffer severe period pain.
Equality minister Irene Montero said the Bill guaranteed women's sexual and reproductive rights, which she described as "a barometer of the democratic quality of a country".
“We are making a law to guarantee that women can live better and can develop their lives with total freedom,” she said on presenting details of the law.
Among the proposals in the leftist coalition’s reform is the removal of the requirement for girls aged 16-17 to obtain parental consent before having an abortion. Also, a mandatory three-day “period of reflection”, to reconsider the decision ahead of the procedure, is eliminated.
The new legislation also seeks to make abortion more available in public clinics, where currently many doctors refuse to perform the operation, so that women do not have to travel long distances or pay for the procedure in private centres. In 2020, the most recent year with data available, there were 88,269 abortions in Spain, 85 per cent of which took place in private clinics.
As the Bill was unveiled, prime minister Pedro Sánchez, a socialist, posted on Twitter: “We are progressing with feminism.”
The Bill will now go to parliament for debate. Mr Sánchez's government hopes it will become law by the end of the year. However, abortion remains a divisive issue in Spain and the Catholic Church has criticised the reform.
Luis Argüello, spokesman for the church, said the Bill “affirms the right to abortion, the right of the strong over the weak when it comes to eliminating a new and distinct life that exists inside the mother”.
Last week, as some details of the abortion reform became public, the head of the Catholic Church, Juan José Omella, described them as “a barbarity”.
Abortion in certain circumstances was decriminalised in 1985. The last overarching abortion reform was by a socialist administration in 2010, making terminations available on demand up to week 14 of a pregnancy. However, the conservative Popular Party (PP) filed an appeal against that law and the constitutional court is still yet to rule on it.
Paid period leave
The new reform also introduces paid leave from work for women who suffer severe period pain. The state social security system, rather than employers, will pay for the leave, which has no set limit and must be approved by a doctor.
“Spain is the first country in Europe to acknowledge menstrual health as a right,” Ms Montero said.
Opposition leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, of the PP, has accused the government of using this issue as a distraction from a recent spying scandal.
“Every time you have a problem, you change the topic of conversation,” he said. “And now it seems that the debate is whether female workers are given leave or not when they are menstruating.”
The new Bill will also seek to promote contraception for men and clamp down on surrogacy, banning advertising by foreign agencies which offer to provide the service.