Partner Abuse and Unintended Pregnancy: Making the Connections

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Partner Abuse and Unintended Pregnancy: Making the Connections

The following blog entry is written by Margaret Conway

A new study sheds light on a little-recognized form of abuse in which men use coercion and birth control sabotage to cause their partners to become pregnant against their wills.

“Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy,” published in the January issue of Contraception, is the first quantitative examination of the relationship between intimate partner violence, coercion and unintended pregnancy. It finds that young women and teens often face “reproductive coercion,” or efforts by male partners to sabotage their birth control or coerce or pressure them to become pregnant. These behaviors may include damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives.

The study of women ages16-29 years of age who sought health care at reproductive health clinics was conducted by researchers at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with the FVPF and Planned Parenthood Shasta Diablo.  It also finds that among women who experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk of unintended pregnancy doubled.  The prevalence of reproductive coercion is notable:

• Approximately one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion;
• 15% said they experienced birth control sabotage;
• 53%  had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner;
• 35% of the women who reported partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.

Reproductive coercion takes many forms, but frequently involves a male partner’s direct interference with a woman’s use of contraception, called “birth control sabotage.” It may include removing condoms during sex to get a woman pregnant, intentionally breaking condoms, and preventing her from taking birth control pills. In addition, a male partner may threaten, coerce a woman to get pregnant (‘pregnancy coercion’), such as telling her not to use contraception and threatening to leave her if she doesn’t get pregnant.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund has an initiative called kNOwMORE to create a dialogue about birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion, which can result in unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, miscarriage, infertility, coerced abortion, poor birth outcomes including preterm birth and low birth-weight babies, and other serious health problems. The website features the stories of women who share their experiences with birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion.

“Janey” tells how her boyfriend forced her to have sex: “Every time I would confront him about his lies and unfaithfulness, he would force himself on me sexually. He always refused to wear a condom and would act offended when I suggested he use one.”  “Carollee” noticed that whole rows of pills would disappear. When Carollee called her boyfriend on the disappearing birth control, he responded that he “knew” she wanted to have his child.  “Sandi’s” boyfriend Chris pretended that his condoms had slipped or broken, when in fact he would purposely remove them.

Those of us who work to stop dating, domestic and sexual violence have long known that many victims face threats, verbal demands and physical violence designed to interfere with their efforts to use birth control. It is a big part of the reason that women in abusive relationships are at a higher risk for unintended pregnancy. This very important study underscores the link between violence and abuse and unintended pregnancy – and the need for providers at reproductive clinics to screen female patients for violence, as well as for pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage. If we are serious about reducing unintended pregnancy in this country, we have to do more to stop violence and abuse, and help victims.

The kNOwMORE project also works to promote policies and other efforts to increase awareness about reproductive coercion among both men and women, among providers of reproductive health services, and among advocates working to end intimate partner violence, including:

• Increasing awareness among women and men, who may perceive reproductive coercion and physical violence in a relationship as different issues, and may need support and information to connect the dots between this range of behaviors and their reproductive health needs;
• Educating family planning practitioners about effective ways to identify reproductive coercion and provide interventions;
• Encouraging comprehensive sexuality education and pregnancy prevention programs to integrate information about reproductive coercion and healthy relationships.

Have you experienced reproductive coercion?  If you would like to learn more, or are willing to share your own story, please visit us at www.knowmoresaymore.org or email info@knowmoresaymore.org.  Together we can help increase awareness and decrease the incidence of reproductive coercion and its negative health outcomes.

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