A recent study led by researchers at UC Davis explores the association between intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy. The study shows that young women often face efforts by their partners to coerce pregnancy or destroy contraception, and that these attempts at reproductive control are associated with other forms of intimate partner violence, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy.
In this study, “Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy,” published in the January issue of Contraception, researchers surveyed over 1300 English and Spanish-speaking women ages 16-29 who were seeking care at five family planning clinics in California. Researchers divided “reproductive control” into two broad areas: pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage. The results showed that an astounding number of surveyed women had experienced either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.
Approximately a third (35%, 237/683) of women reporting partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage, in contrast to only 15% (91/595) of those who never reported violence reporting reproductive control of either form….The combined effect of both partner violence and reproductive control increased the odds of unintended pregnancy almost two-fold.
While many pregnancy prevention efforts place the responsibility for unintended pregnancy on women, especially among teenagers, this study shows that these efforts are not only wrong, but dangerous. They ignore the possible role of of abusive partners in pregnancy.
It also contradicts the popular notion that men are the sole victims of contraceptive sabotage. We often hear stories of women deliberately missing their pill or lying about using contraception entirely to coerce their partner into a more serious relationship due to pregnancy. Less commonly known or discussed is the fact that men also participate in birth control sabotage to manipulate their partners.
The authors suggest a possible step forward: intervention programs provided by family planning clinics and harm reduction services for women affected by partner violence. Family planning clinics could be a great resource for women suffering domestic abuse if programs such as counseling services are offered.
This study shows how important it is for all women to have access to emergency contraception, and a choice of contraceptive methods. Some women need injectable or intrauterine methods so that their partners cannot see or tamper with their contraception. The study also stresses the importance of confidentiality in reproductive health care, so that women can exercise their right to reproductive health without fearing coercion from their partners.
By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern