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Understanding Reproductive Coercion and Abuse

When many people consider domestic violence, they may think that it often or always involves physical abuse. In reality, domestic violence can include many different types of abuse — and may not involve any type of physical abuse. Domestic violence is about gaining and maintaining power and control over another person, which may involve tactics other than violence.

One key example is reproductive abuse. This is a specific form of domestic violence where a person who abuses tries to control another person’s reproductive choices as a way of controlling their life. It may also be referred to as reproductive coercion.

What Is Reproductive Abuse?

Reproductive abuse may be a single act, or it could be part of a broader pattern of

abusive behaviors. The distinguishing feature of this type of abuse is that it is used to control another person.

There are three main types of reproductive abuse: pregnancy coercion, contraceptive sabotage, and controlling the outcome of a pregnancy. It may include things such as:

  • Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex when they don’t want to do so;

  • Hiding, withholding, or destroying a partner’s birth control;

  • Tampering with a partner’s birth control;

  • Threatening to end a relationship if a person doesn’t have sex;

  • Forcing a partner to not use birth control;

  • Intentionally exposing a partner to a sexually-transmitted infection (STI);

  • Removing a condom during sex without telling their partner (also known as stealthing);

  • Poking a hole in a condom on purpose;

  • Pressuring a partner to get pregnant when they don’t want to be;

  • Pressuring a partner to continue a pregnancy when they don’t want to; and

  • Pressuring a partner to end a pregnancy that they want to continue.

Who Is Affected By Reproductive Abuse?

Both men and women can be victims of reproductive abuse. Men can be deceived into fatherhood against their will, which is often an abusive action by a woman. However, in most cases, reproductive coercion and abuse are perpetrated against women by a male partner. There is often an additional layer of trauma due to the elements of fear and control that are at play when a woman’s body is held hostage by a partner. In these situations, an individual fears that they will be harmed physically, psychologically, financially, or sexually if they do not comply with their partner’s demands.

Reproductive abuse and coercion is not limited to romantic relationships. An often-overlooked type of reproductive abuse occurs when family members of a person with a disability make decisions about their reproductive health for them. For example, family members may make decisions about sterilization or birth control on behalf of a woman or girl with disabilities. While their intentions may be good, making these decisions without the consent of the individual — and assuming that a person with a disability doesn’t have the ability or the right to make their own decisions regarding their own reproductive health — can be a form of abuse. This practice recently made international news when it was revealed that Britney Spears’ could not remove her IUD or have a child under the terms of her conservatorship. This revelation brought about a broader discussion of how women with disabilities are often subjected to reproductive coercion — which may be part of a larger pattern of abuse.

The government has also engaged in reproductive abuse, primarily against women of color and women with disabilities. Enslaved people were often forced to carry unwanted pregnancies, and were forced to be the subjects of gynecological experiments. Forced sterilization of women who were deemed to be “unfit” (predominantly immigrants, Black women, Indigenous people, poor white women, and women with disabilities) was common in the 20th century. According to some estimates, as many as 60,000 women were sterilized in 32 states during this time period. Until 1945, it was legal to forcibly sterilize women for the “betterment of society.” Unfortunately, this practice continues to this day. As recently as September 2020, a detention center in Georgia was allegedly sterilizing undocumented immigrants without their consent.

How We Can Help

If you are in an abusive relationship, know that there is help. At Blackburn Center, we offer trauma-informed care for victims and survivors of all types of violence and abuse — including reproductive coercion. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day, is free of charge, and can be anonymous: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available).



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