Recognising violence and coercion
Practitioners who support women presenting with unplanned pregnancy are often in a unique position to screen for domestic violence and reproductive coercion, but sometimes feel they don't have the specific skills or knowledge to do this effectively and sensitively.
There is a clear link between unplanned pregnancy and domestic violence. Women subjected to domestic violence are more likely to face an unplanned pregnancy and more likely to have a pregnancy of higher gestation at the time of presentation to a service.
'Domestic violence' is an umbrella term used to describe a range of behaviours to exert power and control over a partner. This behaviour may manifest in a number of physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological ways.
Reproductive coercion is a relatively new term in Australia but is used to describe interference with reproductive autonomy that denies a woman’s decision-making and access to options. These behaviours range from birth control sabotage, where contraception is deliberately thrown away or tampered with, to threats and use of physical violence if a woman insists on condoms or other forms of contraception, to emotional blackmail coercing the woman to have sex or to fall pregnant, or to have an abortion, to 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.
You can download printable pdfs of our reproductive coercion posters to put up in your practice or service, to raise awareness about the impact of violence and control on reproductive health amongst your patients and clients:
- "He said he'll tell the whole school if I have an abortion."
- "In my culture we breed the football team."
- "If you really loved me you'd have this abortion."
- "I felt like I had no choice about contraception or pregnancy."
- "He flushes my pills down the toilet."
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. This behaviour may be deliberate or indirect and can include a coerced abortion.
Coerced pregnancy is both a form of and consequence of reproductive coercion, where a pregnancy is deliberately intended or used by the perpetrator as a tool of control over the woman, and any decision-making regarding the pregnancy outcomes are removed from her.
Violence may begin or escalate in pregnancy and patterns of violence may shift. It is also worth noting that violence may decrease during pregnancy - usually not out of a shift in the partner's concern for the pregnant woman, but a reflection that the pregnancy itself is the control strategy and so other tactics are not needed at that time.