February 21. 2024. 6:55

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Spain passes law allowing anyone over 16 to change registered gender

Spain’s parliament has approved new legislation that will allow anyone over 16 to change their legally registered gender, ease abortion limits for those aged 16 and 17 and make the country the first in Europe to introduce paid menstrual leave.

The new transgender law – which was passed despite protests from feminist groups, warnings from opposition parties, and amid tensions between different wings of the Socialist-led coalition government – means that anyone aged over 16 will be able to change their gender on official documents without medical supervision.

However, a judge will need to authorise the change for minors aged 12-14, while those aged 14-16 will need the consent of their parents or guardians. No such changes will be available to those under the age of 12.

The law will also see a ban on conversion therapy – punishable by hefty fines – and an end to public subsidies for groups that “incite or promote LGBTIphobia”.

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The new abortion legislation does away with a 2015 measure, introduced by the conservative People’s Party (PP), which requires women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent for abortions. It also scraps the current three-day period of reflection for those seeking a termination, and aims to make it far easier for women to access abortion in public hospitals and clinics.

Thursday’s vote introduces up to five days of menstrual leave for women who have incapacitating periods. According to the Spanish Gynaecological and Obstetric Society, a third of women experience dysmenorrhoea, or painful menstruation. Accompanying measures include the free provision of free sanitary products in schools, prisons and women’s centres to tackle “period poverty”.

Spain’s equality minister, Irene Montero, began her speech to congress on Thursday by thanking Spain’s LGBTQ+ community and trans collectives for helping to get the law passed – and for “saving many lives” in the absence of government intervention.

Ms Montero, who belongs to the Socialists’ junior coalition partners, the far-left, anti-austerity Podemos partner, said the new law was about the state guaranteeing basic rights.

“This is a law that recognises trans people’s right to freely decide their gender identity,” she said. “It stops trans realities being treated as abnormalities. Trans people aren’t sick people; they’re people – full stop. They are who they are – full stop. Trans women are women – full stop. From today, the state recognises that.”

However, the PP accused the government of introducing more ill-considered legislation in the wake of the botched “only-yes-means-yes” sexual consent law that has allowed some convicted sex offenders to have their sentences retrospectively reduced. The Socialists have promised to correct the “undesired effects” of that law, angering their partners in Podemos, which pushed the new consent legislation and still defends it.

Before the trans law passed by 191 votes in favour, 60 against and with 91 abstentions, the PP warned the government it was going too far, too fast.

“We all know of other countries that have backtracked on their ‘trans laws’ because they now know that they got ahead of themselves and that that caused a lot of suffering,” said a party spokeswoman, María Jesús Moro. “Let’s not have the same thing here.”

She added: “We don’t want to see a new and unbearable roll-call of victims just days after this new law comes into effect. We don’t want a remake of the ‘only-yes-means-yes’ law.”

However, the new law was welcomed by Uge Sangil, the head of FELGBTI+, Spain’s largest LGBTQ+ organisation.

“We’re celebrating the fact this law has passed after eight years of tireless work to obtain rights for the trans community,” Sangil told Agence France-Presse outside parliament.

“We’re winning human rights with the free determination of gender ... From today, our lives will change because we are not ill.”

In recent years, several European nations that pioneered transgender legislation have had second thoughts.

Among those to have reimposed restrictions are Sweden and Finland, while in the UK, Westminster last month blocked a Scottish trans rights law similar to Spain’s.

The bitter dispute over transgender issues played a role in Wednesday’s shock resignation of Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Although she had championed the law, Ms Sturgeon became entangled in a major row over transgender women entering all-female prisons, after a rape case that caused a public outcry.

A year ago, Sweden decided to halt hormone therapy for minors except in very rare cases.

In December, it limited mastectomies for girls wanting to transition, to a research setting, citing the need for “caution”.

The decision followed moves by Finland, which decided to restrict gender reassignment hormone treatment for similar reasons in 2020. – Guardian