SPAIN is set to be the first European country to allow sick leave for severe menstrual pain after the government approved a new law with a draft of reforms related to women’s reproductive health.
On Tuesday the Council of Ministers in Madrid passed the draft reform of the law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy, which if ratified by parliament would bring in revolutionary legislation such as paid sick leave for period pains and go some way to combat menstrual poverty.
The Minister for Territorial Policy and Government Spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, and the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero (Podemos), announced the outcome of the government meeting, saying that the new law, if passed, would build on the 2010 law, which has already built solid pillars for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
Rodríguez described the reform as “a new step forward for women and for democracy in our country”.
The new law will provide sick leave, paid in full by the state, for women who have painful and disabling periods. In an attempt to fight menstrual poverty, products related to menstrual hygiene will be dispensed free of charge in educational, penitentiary and social service centres. Montero stressed: “Periods will cease to be a taboo”.
However, a proposed reduction in VAT from 10% to 4% on mestrual products wasn’t approved.
In order to guarantee access to barrier methods of contraception, these will be distributed free of charge in schools, prisons and social service centres under the new law. Likewise, public funding will be increased, giving priority to the latest generation methods, and the development and research into male contraception will be promoted in order to encourage men’s co-responsibility.
Voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion)
Under the new law, a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy will be maintained, and women who decide to terminate their pregnancies will be able to do so in the public hospital closest to their homes “so that they do not have to travel, sometimes hundreds of kilometres, as is currently the case in many autonomous communities” said Montero.
The individual and constitutional right to conscientious objection by healthcare staff will also be respected, meaning doctors will not be forced to carry out abortions if it goes against their beliefs.
The current three-day reflection period, before an abortion can be carried out, will be removed, as well as the obligation to give information to women beforehand. Women who have a termination will also have the right to temporary leave during the recovery period.
The morning-after pill will be available free of charge in health centres and in public centres specialising in sexual and reproductive rights, and will have to be available in all pharmacies. It is currently only available in pharmacies which stock it and at a cost of around €20.
Women aged 16 and 17 and those with disabilities will now not require the consent of their parents or legal guardians to terminate a pregnancy. “The state guarantees that the decision about their bodies, their life projects and their maternity will be theirs,” said Montero.
Pregnancy and childbirth
The law also covers aspects related to pregnancy and childbirth. There will be a new pre-birth leave from the 39th week of pregnancy, which will not detract from subsequent maternity leave, although the initial proposal had been from 36 weeks. Good gynaecological-obstetric practices and respected childbirth will be promoted through a protocol that includes international and national guidelines in this respect.
Guarantee and expansion of sexual and reproductive rights
Sex education will be compulsory at all educational stages. Montero defended the need for children, adolescents and young people to learn to know their bodies, to care for sexual and gender diversity and to have relationships free of violence and based on fair treatment, consent and the use of contraception and barrier methods.
She argued that the question is not whether sexuality should or should not be learned, because “learning about our sexuality is a given”. The key is to decide how it is learned,
Finally, reproductive exploitation, forced abortion and pregnancy, forced sterilisation and forced contraception are recognised as forms of violence against women, as set out in the Istanbul Convention.
The proposed criminalising of the use of a surrogate mother even if it takes place outside Spain, was also not approved.