Partners' Control of Women's Reproductive Options May Lead To Abortions And Unwanted Births

Male reproductive control—which takes place when a woman’s partner imposes his reproductive intentions on her through intimidation, threats or actual violence—occurs among women who have experienced intimate partner violence, according to "Male Reproductive Control of Women Who Have Experienced Intimate Partner Violence in the United States," by Ann Moore et al. The article is currently available online and will be published in a forthcoming issue of Social Science & Medicine.

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 71 women aged 18–49 who had a history of intimate partner violence; they were recruited in 2007 from a domestic violence shelter, a freestanding abortion clinic and a family planning clinic providing a full range of reproductive health services. The study found that 53 respondents (74%) reported having experienced some type of reproductive control. Women reported that their partners threatened them before sexual intercourse and insisted that they were going to make them pregnant. They were also prevented from obtaining or using contraception. During sexual intercourse, women experienced a range of behaviors by partners actively seeking to cause a pregnancy. Women reported forced or unwanted intercourse (sometimes unwanted only because it was unprotected), failure to withdraw when that was the agreed upon method of contraception, refusal to use condoms or manipulation of condoms to render them ineffective, and violent rape.

Women who became pregnant reported experiencing pressure or coercion to resolve the pregnancy in the way their partners wanted. Some women who wanted to terminate the pregnancy reported that abusive partners made them feel bad about their desire to abort and pressured them to give birth. Others reported that their partners refused to allow them to have an abortion, denying access by withholding money for transportation or the abortion, sabotaging appointments, and coming to the clinic and "breaking things up." Some also described partners who threatened to harm or kill them if they had an abortion. Among women who wanted to continue the pregnancy, some described experiencing pressure or coercion to terminate the pregnancy, while others reported that their partners threatened to hurt them in order to bring an end to the pregnancy. The authors point out that threats and coercion by men to achieve their own pregnancy desires that are contrary to their partners’ wishes often leave women unable to act autonomously.

"We believe that reproductive control is, itself, a form of intimate partner violence, and one worthy of public health attention," says Ann Moore, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute. The authors recommend that providers assess their patients in order to identify women who may need to hide their contraceptives from their partner, conduct prenatal care and abortion counseling in private, and ask questions designed to ascertain if anyone is pressuring the woman either to terminate or continue the pregnancy.

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