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Study: Reproductive Coercion a Factor in Unintended Pregnancy

Posted January 27, 2010 by margaret

A groundbreaking study released this week 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.  The study, published in the January issue of Contraception, finds this kind of reproductive control to be especially common in relationships in which women experience physical or sexual partner violence.

“Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy” is the first quantitative examination of the relationship between intimate partner violence, reproductive coercion and unintended pregnancy.  It finds that young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage their birth control or coerce or pressure them to become pregnant – including by damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives.  These behaviors, defined as “reproductive coercion,” are often associated with physical or sexual violence.

It also finds that among women who experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk of unintended pregnancy doubled.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Pubic Health.  From August 2008 to March 2009, researchers worked at five reproductive health clinics in Northern California, querying some 1,300 English- and Spanish-speaking 16- to 29-year-old women who agreed to respond to a survey about their experiences.  They were asked about birth-control sabotage, pregnancy coercion and intimate partner violence.

Key findings include:

  • Approximately one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion and 15 percent said they experienced birth control sabotage;
  • Fifty-three percent of respondents said they had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner; and
  • Thirty-five percent of the women who reported partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.

“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,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) President Esta Soler.  ”It is a big part of the reason that women in abusive relationships are at 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.”

“This study highlights an under-recognized phenomenon where male partners actively attempt to promote pregnancy against the will of their female partners,” said lead author Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine and a practitioner at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “Not only is reproductive coercion associated with violence from male partners, but when women report experiencing both reproductive coercion and partner violence, the risk for unintended pregnancy increases significantly.”

“We have known about the association between partner violence and unintended pregnancy for many years,” said Jay Silverman, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of society, human development and health in the Harvard School of Public Health. “What this study shows is that reproductive coercion likely explains why unintended pregnancies are far more common among abused women and teens.”

Rebecca Levenson, a Senior Policy Analyst in the FVPF’s Health Unit, is a co-author of the new study.  It was conducted in collaboration with the FVPF and the Planned Parenthood Shasta Diablo Affiliate.

The FVPF’s KnowMoreSayMore initiative is creating 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.

2 Responses to “Study: Reproductive Coercion a Factor in Unintended Pregnancy”

  1. Lisa Warmbrodt said:

    This is not an easy subject to talk about. In a way it makes one feel that the resulting children were unwanted, and in my case, that isn’t so. But I didn’t get pregnant willingly; my partner was extremely abusive and controlling. He beat me during my first pregnancy and I miscarried. I went on the pill, but when things got shaky again between he and I, he began hiding or destroying my pills. I got pregnant, and had a daughter. I left him, but after five years he found me and we attempted to reconcile. I had been using (successfully) a diaphragm at the time. Within three months I was pregnant. I checked the diaphragm after I found out, and it had numerous little pin holes in it. Things got bad again, and shortly after my son was born, I left. Something that I think needs to be addressed is that often women will have what seems to be consensual sex with their abuser shortly before they leave; this is an attempt to pacify him, to make him think everything is all right and give her the opportunity to make her getaway. It happened to me; two weeks after I left, I found I was pregnant again. My children’s father paid no child support, because I lived in fear he would find me. I think this issue, and that of child visitation in domestic violence situations, are two policies that need to be changed. Child support in these cases should be handled federally, so that the woman cannot be traced to the state in which she lives. Furthermore, I don’t think that a man who beats his partner should be allowed visitation; I know in my case my partner was willing to hurt my children when he no longer had access to hurt me directly. I hope this information can help someone in some way.

  2. anonymous said:

    i’m seventeen, and i’m about fourteen weeks pregnant…my boyfriend never messed with my birth control pills, but he would always tell me not to take them, and get angry when he would find out i was taking them…he kept saying he wanted to have a baby, and everytime he found out i was taking my pills, we would argue and fight…is this a form of reproductive coercion?

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