Abuse can come in many forms, from physical to emotional, stalking and more. One type of abuse that is not as commonly known, despite its prevalence in abusive relationships, is reproductive coercion. This form of abuse affects millions of women, and can significantly impact her ability to leave her abuser. But what exactly is reproductive coercion?
Reproductive coercion, in its simplest form, is the use of manipulation, intimidation, threats, and/or acts of violence to coerce a woman into becoming pregnant or continuing or ending a pregnancy against her will. This type of abuse typically takes two forms: pregnancy pressure and/or birth control sabotage. It can include an abuser threatening a partner that if she doesn’t get pregnant, he will leave her. A man might refuse to wear a condom, or tell his partner that if she really loved him, she would want to have his baby. An abuser might demand that his partner continue a pregnancy or that she gets an abortion — regardless of what she wants to do. It may involve taking away a partner’s birth control — such as flushing birth control pills down the toilet, or pulling off a contraceptive patch — or pressuring a partner to not use any birth control. Why do abusers do this? Like all abuse, it is an effort to maintain power, control and domination over a partner. Think about what this looks like from the perspective of a controlling/abusive person: if a woman gives birth to your child, then she is physically and financially tied to you — and it makes it that much harder for her to leave you.
Many women fail to recognize this as a form of abuse, particularly if their relationship is not otherwise physically or sexually violent.
In abusive relationships, reproductive coercion is common. According to the Center for Disease Control, 8.6% of American women (approximately 10.3 million women) have had a partner try to get them pregnant when they did not want to be pregnant. Two separate studies have found that 16% of women have been pressured to get pregnant when they didn’t want to be. Both of these studies arose when doctors recognized that their patients may have been coerced into getting pregnant because they had recently indicated a desire to not get pregnant by asking for birth control. Because both women and doctors may not always recognize this form of abuse, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released guidelines for screening patients about reproductive coercion (such as asking if: “has anyone has tried to get you pregnant when you did not want to be?). By directly addressing these issues, doctors may be able to reduce the incidence of reproductive coercion by doing things like prescribing birth control that isn’t easily sabotaged, or referring patients to local domestic violence organizations like Blackburn Center.
Beyond medical screening, there are many ways that we can all join together to fight this form of abuse. First, educate yourself about reproductive coercion — and then speak openly and honestly about it. One of the reasons that reproductive coercion is so prevalent is because so many people do not recognize it as a form of abuse. By talking about it, we can impact the way that reproductive coercion is perceived — and hopefully reduce the number of women who fall victim to it. Second, get involved! There are so many ways to fight back against this and all forms of violence. You can donate to Blackburn Center, volunteer for us, or simply spread the word about our organization through the power of social media. By working together, we can help to end reproductive coercion as a form of domestic abuse!