KEY POINTS: Spain’s new women’s health law

Spain’s Council of Ministers approved on Tuesday the new so-called abortion law or women's health law. Here's a breakdown of the changes to abortions, menstrual leave and contraceptives it addresses.

KEY POINTS: Spain's new women's health law
The proposed women's health legislation must still be approved by parliament, with a vote not expected for months. Photo: Jonathan Barba/Unsplash

After months of negotiations within the government, the Ministry of Equality is satisfied with the preliminary draft reform of the abortion law, although outstanding measures have been left out along the way, such as the reduction of VAT on pads and tampons. 

Spain’s Minister of Equality Irene Montero explained that the draft represents a modification of the one approved by the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2010, which already had “very solid pillars”, after the “setbacks” that occurred under Mariano Rajoy’s government.

The proposed legislation must still be approved by parliament, with a vote not expected for months, but if approved here’s what will change. 

Girls aged 16 and 17 will be able to get abortions without the need for permission

Previously, it was necessary for those aged 16 and 17 who wanted an abortion to get consent from their parents, but this new law means that no permission will be necessary. Women who undergo an abortion will have the right to disability leave and specialised support in cases of terminated pregnancy.  

Guaranteed abortions in the public health system

The new law guarantees that abortion will be available in the public health sector if it is needed in an emergency and also places special emphasis on the proximity of women’s homes to health centres, so that they won’t have to travel far to get one.

Many times women end up in private clinics because the public hospitals refuse them. In addition, women will be able to choose between surgical and pharmacological abortion, both of which must be available in all centres.

In Spain, of the 88,269 voluntary terminations of pregnancy reported in 2020, the latest available data showed that 84.5 percent were performed in private centres. Twelve provinces have not reported any abortion in the last five years, not even in private clinics. 

Registration of objectors

The law assures that conscientious objectors have a right not to perform abortions and will be regulated in the same way as in the Euthanasia Law. It will guarantee that there will always be personnel available to form voluntary abortions. Any health professional either working in the private or public sectors can declare themselves to be a conscientious objector.

The three mandatory reflection days will be eliminated

The new draft bill eliminates the need to take three days of reflection before terminating a pregnancy, which has been mandatory up until now. The law also states that information on alternatives will be provided and help in the case that the woman decides to continue with her pregnancy and requests it.

Menstrual and pregnancy leave

For the first time, the law will include a specific section on periods, allowing time off work for women who suffer from extremely painful and disabling periods, which will be financed 100 percent by the State.

Good practices will be promoted in all stages of pregnancy, especially in childbirth and postpartum. Prepartum leave will be incorporated from the 39th week of pregnancy, which will be taken away from maternity leave.

Free period products

In high schools, prisons, women’s centres, civic centres, social centres and public bodies, products such as tampons, pads or menstrual cups will be distributed free of charge with the aim of ending menstrual poverty.

Free distribution of the pill and methods of male contraception

The new law also indicates that there will be free distribution of the morning-after pill in health centres, as well as in sexual and reproductive health institutions.

Currently, this emergency contraceptive can be bought without a prescription in pharmacies at a price of around €20, although some Spanish regions already provide it for free in health centres. The new law proposes that the pill must be available in all pharmacies. Male contraceptive methods will also be promoted, so that it will not only be the responsibility of the woman.

Mandatory sex education

The law states that sex education must be mandatory in schools. Teachers will be trained in sexual and menstrual education, as will prison officers and public workers.

Free contraceptive methods will also be distributed in educational centres linked to campaigns on sexual education (something that will also be done in social centres and prisons). There will also be public centres for sexual and reproductive health and a hotline will be created.  

Surrogacy and forced sterilisation

The law recognises surrogacy as a form of violence against women and the advertising of agencies that offer these services abroad is prohibited. It also considers forced abortion and sterilisation of women with disabilities as violence against women.

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Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.