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Spain passes laws on trans rights, abortion, menstrual leave

February 16, 2023

The new laws expand transgender rights and abortion access, as well as give workers paid menstrual leave. The approval comes ahead of scheduled elections later this year.

 Spain's Minister for Equality Irene Montero (C) celebrates the final approval of a law that will make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender
The new law was hailed as a victory by LGBTQ+ activists and women's rights campaigners in SpainImage: Susana Vera/REUTERS

Spain's parliament on Thursday passed legislation which makes it easier for trans people to change their gender, expands access to abortion procedures and grants menstrual leave to women suffering from severe period pain.

The laws were put forward by the country's left wing coalition government. The transgender law passed with 191 votes in favor, 60 against and 91 abstentions, following a rift in Spain's governing left-wing coalition ahead of elections scheduled for May this year.

Thursday's passed bills make Spain the first European country to introduce menstrual leave. The European country is also among the first countries worldwide to allow people to change their gender on their national identity cards with a simple declaration.

However, the laws were passed amid wide controversy and loud disagreement.

What does the gender identity law entail?

Prior to the law's passing, adults in Spain were required to provide a medical report attesting to gender dysphoria and proof of hormone treatment for two years in order to change their legally registered gender. For minors, the process was even more complex, and included mandatory judicial authorization.

The newly-passed law scraps many of the hurdles for those aged 16 and older. It also allows minors aged 14 and 15 to apply for a gender change with their parents' or legal guardians' approval. Minors aged 12 and 13, however, will need a judge's permission.

Spain's controversial transgender law

The bill also bans so-called "conversion therapy" that seeks to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual and outlines government measures for the inclusion of trans people in the workforce, education and housing.

LGBTQ activists celebrated the vote outside parliament in the capital Madrid on Thursday.

How have the laws been received?

The legislation was championed by Equality Minister, Irene Montero, of the left-wing junior coalition partner Podemos ("United We Can").

"This law recognizes the right of trans people to self-determine their gender identity, it depathologizes trans people. Trans people are not sick people, they are just people," Montero said ahead of the vote. She described the law as among "the most important laws of this legislature."

Montero later celebrated the bill being voted into law on Twitter.

The passage was also praised by Spain's largest LGBTQ organization, saying it would set an example for other countries.

"We're celebrating the fact this law has passed after eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community," Uge Sangil, head of FELGBTI+ told news agency AFP.

However, the law created a division within the ruling coalition, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist Party voicing reservations.

Spain's right-wing parties, who now represent the opposition, also staunchly opposed the law. Maria Jesus Moro of the opposition Popular Party made a last-minute appeal to vote against the law ahead of Thursday's session.

Other groups expressed their opposition to the bill over concerns it could allow men to compete in women's sport or request a transfer to women's prisons.

What changes were made to abortion access?

The Spanish parliament also approved on Thursday another law allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to undergo an abortion without parental consent.

The new law also enshrines the right to have an abortion in a state hospital. Over 80% of abortions carried out in Spain are currently done in private clinics, with many doctors in the public health system refusing to perform them, citing religious reasons.

Thursday's vote follows an attempt by the right-wing Popular Party to knock down a 2010 legislation which allows abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The country's Constitutional Court rejected the challenge last week.

Other changes brought about by Thursday's vote include offering free menstrual products in schools and prisons, and free hormonal contraceptives and the morning after pill at state-run health centers.

rmt/rs (AFP, AP, EFE)