Thousands of people march to protest a government plan to limit abortions in Madrid on February 8, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Madrid) - Spain’s ruling Popular Party should withdraw a bill that would force 16 and 17-year-old girls to obtain the consent of their parents to terminate a pregnancy, 22 national and international rights groups said today in letters to the head of the party’s group of legislators in Congress and to UN bodies. The bill is under examination in Congress.

The rights groups said the draft legislation poses a serious threat to the health and sexual and reproductive rights of girls and creates unjustified barriers to safe and legal abortion.

The proposed legislative changes would obligate 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardians before terminating a pregnancy, even in cases in which the requirement could place them at risk of serious conflict, violence, or abuse. Under the bill, a parent’s refusal to give consent could only be challenged in court, raising serious concerns about girls’ well-being and whether the courts would be able to make decisions in a timely manner.

International human rights law recognizes that access to safe and legal abortions is fundamental to women and girls’ exercise of their human rights, including the rights to life, freedom from discrimination, equality, health, and privacy. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has determined that in accordance with their evolving capacities, 16 and 17-year-old girls should be able to access sexual and reproductive health services without parental consent. The European Court of Human Rights has established that parents of teenaged girls do not necessarily have the right to make decisions concerning their reproductive choices.

The UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice noted in December 2014 that the bill “would further restrict girls’ access to safe and legal abortion” and would expose them to risk.

Current Spanish law requires 16 and 17-year-olds to inform their legal representatives, but does not require the consent of those representatives. The current law removes even the notification requirement when there is the possibility notification could provoke a serious conflict or family violence, threats, coercion, abuse, or abandonment.

In 2014, 3.6 percent of all abortions performed in Spain were for 16 and 17-year-olds. Of these, 12.37 percent – 400 girls – did not inform their parents, citing the above grounds.

The rights organizations have also sent letters to the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and the UN special rapporteurs on violence against women and on the right to health to encourage them to raise concerns about the draft legislation with the Spanish authorities.

The groups that signed the letters are:
Alianza por la Solidaridad
Centro de Derechos Reproductivos
Human Rights Watch
Rights International Spain
Associació de Dones de les Illes Balears per a la Salut (ADIBS) 
Asociación de Investigación y Especialización sobre Temas Iberoamericanos (AIETI)
Asociación Profesional de Agentes de Igualdad de Oportunidades entre Mujeres y Hombres de la Comunidad de Madrid (AMPLIA)
Associació de Planificació Familiar de Catalunya i Balears
Calala Fondo de Mujeres
Campanya pel Dret a l'Avortament
Centro de Estudios e Investigación sobre Mujeres
Confederación CERES
Creación Positiva
Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal
Federación Mujeres Jóvenes
Forum de Política Feminista
Fundación Mujeres
Haurralde Fundazioa  
Iniciativas de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo  (ICID)
Puntos Subversivos
Tertulia Feminista Alternativas Insólitas
Tertulia Feminista Les Comadres