What is reproductive coercion?
The term reproductive coercion is used to define a range of male partner pregnancy-controlling behaviours. These behaviours can include birth control sabotage (where contraception is deliberately thrown away or tampered with), threats and use of physical violence if a woman insists on condoms or other forms of contraception, emotional blackmail coercing a woman to have sex or to fall pregnant, or to have an abortion as a sign of her love and fidelity, as well as forced sex and rape . In these circumstances, pregnancy can be used as a tool of control, and a sign to a perpetrator of violence that they have power over their partner’s body. Reproductive coercion is an easy and effective and cowardly way of manipulating and controlling a woman by limiting her autonomy over her fertility and reproductive health and choices.
Women can experience coercion from a partner to either become pregnant or progress with a pregnancy they do not want, or to terminate a pregnancy they wish to continue. It usually occurs within the context of relationships which are violent in other ways, as an additional tool used by perpetrators of violence. [2,3]
What does the research say?
In the United States, the rates of reproductive coercion are suspected to be so large and yet so hidden that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is recommending doctors screen for reproductive coercion alongside domestic violence .
Several studies into the rates of reproductive coercion have taken place, also in the US, with one finding that among 71 women with a history of intimate partner violence, almost three quarters had experienced some form of reproductive control , as this 2010 article explains.
The Global Turnaway Study shows that American women who seek and are denied an abortion are more likely to remain in violent relationships than women who are able to access a procedure.
In Australia this is an emerging area of research. However, we do know enough to know how serious a problem reproductive coercion is, and how much risk our complicated abortion access processes place women in violent relationships under.
For example, during pregnancy women face an increased risk of intimate partner violence, and unintended pregnancy occurs more commonly for women in violent relationships . Using medical contraception is often complicated for women in violent relationships, largely due to issues of control and financial surveillance .
In 2014-15, calls to Children by Choice involved reports of at least one form of violence in 30% of cases. 7.5% of our cases involved women experiencing both domestic and sexual violence; one in five of them were also experiencing reproductive coercion.
While national data exists to show one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence, more work must be done on researching and responding to the overlap between the two.
Any policy or strategy designed to address reproductive health or domestic violence should include reproductive coercion as an issue, in order to ensure women experiencing this type of violence and control have access services and supports which respond to their specific needs.
1. E Miller, M Decker, H McCauley, D Tancredi, R Levenson, J Waldman, P Schoenwald, J Silverman, ‘Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy’ (2010) 81 Contraception 316. Available online at http://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824%2809%2900522-8/abstract.
3. Reproductive and Sexual Coercion American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women: Comittee Opinion Number 554, February 2013. Available online at http://www.acog.org/~/media/Committee%20Opinions/Committee%20on%20Health%20Care%20for%20Underserved%20Women/co554.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130206T0531420146
4. A Moore, L Frohwirth, E Miller, 'Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States' Social Science and Medicine 2010, 70 (11): 1737-1744. Online at http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/20359808.
5. E Miller, B Jordan, R Levenson and J Silverman, ‘Reproductive Coercion: Connecting the Dots Between Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy’ (2010) 81 Contraception 457; Available online at https://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/contraception-journal/june-2010.
6. C Williams, U Larsen, and L McCloskey, ‘Intimate Partner Violence and Women’s Contraceptive Use’ (2008) 14 Violence Against Women 1382. Online at http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/14/12/1382.abstract.