Spain eyes free contraception for under-25s

Spain’s Ministry of Equality is considering offering people under the age of 25 free contraception as well as the possibility of women taking time off work when they have severe menstrual pain.

Spain eyes free contraception for under-25s
The average age Spanish women have children is at 31.1 years of age, the latest in Europe together with Italian mothers. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP)

Spain’s Secretary of State for Equality and the fight against Gender Violence Ángela Rodríguez wants to follow the example of France and offer those under 25 years of age free contraception. 

On January 1st 2022, French authorities started offering all women aged 18-25 the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. 

The scheme, which was already in place in the Gallic nation for under-18s, aims to ensure young women don’t stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

“One of the elements that we have to discuss is whether to finance free contraceptive elements for those under 25 years of age,” Rodríguez told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

“It is important that we open up debate in our country about this,” she stressed, adding that France’s example was “very inspiring” and that such an initiative would be included in the battery of measures for the reform of Spain’s abortion law.

For Spain’s Secretary of State for Equality, there has to be “a little more co-responsibility” between men and women, although she has not clarified yet whether the scheme would make contraceptives such as condoms available for free to both male and female under-25s.

The Equality Ministry will need the backing of Finance Minister María Jesús Montero, who is reportedly likely to back the move.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

The average age Spanish women have children is at 31.1 years of age, the latest in Europe together with Italian mothers. 

Spain also has a lower rate of teenage pregnancies than other European countries, with only one in every fifty births corresponding to mothers under the age of 18.

READ ALSO: How the pandemic has made Spain’s birthrate drop to its lowest in 80 years

Equality Minister Irene Montero is currently spearheading Spain’s Abortion Law reform, with some of the standout measures being abortions being offered to women across all Spanish hospitals, dropping the age to 16 for which abortion in teens requires permission from parents and scrapping the required three days of reflexion before the intervention.   

One of the newer measures mentioned by Rodríguez on Cadena Ser is to also guarantee menstrual and reproductive health by ensuring women get sick leave due to severe menstrual pain.

“It’s a common sense measure. Many times strong periods produce serious medical conditions and this generates very uncomfortable situations at work”.

READ ALSO: Madrid raises age limit for women to have free IVF up to 45

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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.