By Marianne Forsey, youth intern at IPPF in London
I am currently interning with the Youth Team at IPPF whilst I study for a Masters in Gender and Law. In December last year I had the opportunity to visit the Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal (F.P.F.E) in Spain to share knowledge, exchange experiences and find out more about their youth-led project ‘Yo Decido Cuándo’ (I Decide When).
When I met other young volunteers at F.P.F.E, I wanted to know more about how abortion stigma affects young people in Spain, and how it is manifested compared to in the UK. From our conversations, it became clear that abortion stigma has many branches.
There are particular cultural values that lead to the stigmatisation of abortion in Spain. Family is valued very highly in Spanish culture and becoming a mother is still regarded as a woman’s key role. Due to this idealisation of motherhood and fatherhood within society, abortion can be misconceived as a threat to these values. Furthermore, Spain is traditionally a Catholic country, and religious messaging still has a strong influence on attitudes held within society. Talking about sexuality (and abortion) is therefore still a taboo.
Staff and volunteers at F.P.F.E told me that stigma is created through a lack of education, not only about abortion but about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health. As sexuality education is not a mandatory subject in Spain and there is no set standard of provision, the quality and content varies between schools. As a result, sexuality education tends to be decontextualized and focuses on contraception above all else, rather than as part of a comprehensive and holistic programme which connects sexuality, sexual health and reproduction. A lack of formal education and a reluctance to discuss abortion in general means that young people are not informed about the legal status of abortion in Spain, nor what the medical procedure itself entails. Without this education, they are unsure about where to go for advice or what they would do if they needed an abortion. F.P.F.E has noted that this absence of knowledge creates a fear around abortion and allows stigmatising myths to circulate.
In recent years, there has been a lack of consensus amongst Spanish political parties about the law on abortion, and proposed legal reforms have become a topic of debate in the media. F.P.F.E has noticed that anti-choice campaigners have used this period to gain greater publicity and media coverage. The conflicting messages in the public debates create a stigmatising environment and have left the general public confused about the legal status of abortion in Spain. Although the abortion law is fairly liberal, there has been one recent amendment which affects young people in particular. Since September 2015, 16-17 year olds requiring an abortion must inform their parent or legal guardian and gain their consent. In practice, this means that the parent or guardian must accompany the young person to their consultations. This amendment does not fulfil young people’s right to confidential sexual and reproductive health services, and creates another barrier for young people’s access to abortion services.
Through our conversations it became evident that, as in all societies, there are many different branches to abortion stigma in Spain. Cultural values, religious messages, a lack of education, polarised media debates, political and legal inconsistency can all affect society’s attitudes towards abortion. F.P.F.E’s ‘Yo Decido Cuándo’ project combats abortion stigma using many branches to educate and inform young people about their rights.