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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Spain bans harassment of women having abortions

Spain has criminalised the harassment or intimidation of women going for an abortion under new legislation approved on Wednesday by the Senate.

Spain bans harassment of women having abortions
A member of "40 dias por la vida" (40 days for life), an international anti-abortion organisation that campaigns against abortion through prayer, speaks with a woman outside the Emece private hospital in Barcelona on October 28, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

The move, which involved changes to the penal code, means anti-abortion activists who try and convince women not to terminate their pregnancies could face up to a year behind bars.

The measure was proposed by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party and will come into effect after being published in the official state bulletin in coming days.

Anyone trying “to impede (a woman) from exercising her right to voluntarily interrupt pregnancy” through “bothersome, offensive, intimidating or threatening acts” will face jail time of between three and 12 months, or community service, the text says.

In practice, the legislation criminalises protests outside of abortion clinics.

The ban also applies to the harassment or intimidation of healthcare professionals working at abortion clinics.

Staunchly Catholic Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 in cases of rape, if a foetus is malformed or if a birth poses a serious physical or psychological risk to the mother.

But the scope of the law was broadened in 2010 to allow abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

‘Praying is not a crime’

Even so, Spanish women still face obstacles, with “most” obstetrician-gynaecologists in the public sector refusing to carry out such procedures, the OMC doctors’ association has said.

When going to a private clinic, women are sometimes confronted by anti-abortion activists who try and persuade them not to end their pregnancies.

As the legislation was being debated, anti-abortion activists from the Right to Life platform rallied outside the Senate against the “criminalisation” of their protests.

“Praying is not a crime and we will continue to pray and offer our help to all those women who need it so that they can see that abortion is not the only solution,” said spokeswoman Inmaculada Fernandez in a statement.

“More than 6,000 children were born last year thanks to the help of pro-life groups and none of the mothers regretted giving birth.”

According to a 2018 study by ACAI, which represents abortion clinics, 89 percent of Spanish women said they had felt harassed when attending an abortion clinic, and 66 percent said they felt threatened.

Sánchez’s government is also working on a law to ensure that all public hospitals will offer abortions, and further legislation that will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to end a pregnancy without permission from their parents as they currently can in the UK and France.

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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

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.




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