There is still a stereotype that some women get pregnant in order to “keep” a man. While that surely does occur, it is far from frequent. What is shockingly common, however, is that males will use reproductive coercion to control their partners. A growing body of literature has documented reproductive coercion in abusive relationships involving both adults and, increasingly, teens.
Reproductive coercion takes many forms, yet many women do not realize they have been a victim of it: Refusal to use birth control, breaking or removing a condom during intercourse, lying about use of birth control (for instance, lying about being on the pill or having had a vasectomy), refusing to “pull out” even if that was agreed upon, forcing a partner not to use birth control, sabotaging birth control (i.e, removing pills), withholding finances to purchase birth control, purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease, forcing pregnancy or not supporting a partner’s choice about when or if they want to have a child, forcing or preventing a partner from getting an abortion, threatening violence or acting violently if a partner doesn’t comply with one’s wishes related to a pregnancy, or continually keeping a partner pregnant.
Recent studies have found that 40 percent of domestic violence victims had endured some form of reproductive coercion, and 84 percent of those survivors reported that the coercion resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. Alona Del Rosario, senior policy associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), explained the consequences of reproductive coercion as follows: “Reproductive coercion and abuse is meant to limit survivors’ ability to hold a job or pursue an education. It creates a vulnerability that helps make them more dependent on the abuser to provide for their children and can ultimately prevent them from establishing independence.”
Younger women are particularly vulnerable to reproductive coercion in the U.S., as are black and ethnic minority women. It is critical that parents discuss this with their teens. Another key component involves having doctors screen patients for abuse, including asking about reproductive coercion. In Florida (where I live), doctors are required to attend domestic violence training periodically. Although they are not legally required to conduct such screening, training requirements, such as those in Florida, tend to increase the number of doctors who do so—and thus has been found to help identify victims and put them in touch with needed resources.
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