When Violence Usurps A Woman’s Choice

It wasn’t really much of a choice for her. Her boyfriend said, “If I find out you have an abortion, I’m gonna kill you.” She was 18, had just gotten into college on a full scholarship and didn’t want to have a baby.

She did have the baby. Her boyfriend attended the delivery against her will and she ran away from him a few days after the birth. Unfortunately, her story is not that unusual.

“Women with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV) are also likely to experience male reproductive control,” says Ann Moore, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “Male reproductive control is a form of intimate partner violence that has traditionally not been an area that we define as a type of abuse.”

She looked at the woman who was forced to have a baby as part of a study of IPV [PDF]. It defined male reproductive control as when a woman’s partner imposes his reproductive intentions on her through intimidation, threats or actual violence. That also includes women who want to have children but are threatened with violence if they do not terminate their pregnancies.

One woman in the study was warned, “If you don’t get it done, I’m throwing you down the steps …” That 21-year old woman thought, “If it doesn’t get done [by a doctor], he’s going to do it, and I don’t want that to be done.” She got an abortion even though it wasn’t her choice.

Women who are coerced into abortions are the ones anti-choice forces have seized upon in their  drive to restrict abortions out of existence, but they shift the blame from abusive and controlling men to abortion providers. “They have tried to paint a picture of abortion providers as trying to coerce women into having abortions. There is no evidence of that occurring,” says Stephanie Toti, staff attorney in the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Several states have tried to require signs in reproductive care clinics that read, “No one can coerce you to have an abortion.” While this doesn’t sound bad it could have consequences that aren’t immediately apparent. Signage laws fail to address abusive husbands, boyfriends or others who would still be able to threaten physical harm to women who insist on having abortions. These laws also fail to criminalize the act of forcing a woman to give birth.

Women don’t need signs. They need practical solutions that address real problems, not the myths created by the anti-choice forces. We have a responsibility to help women who find themselves in these coercive relationships. Any ideas of what to do?

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/tristaemlet/4089225446/.



  1. The first thing that comes to my mind is to campaign for reproductive control to be criminalized. If something is illegal, it becomes easier not only to seek justice but also to teach people that it is wrong and how to fight it.

    At the same time, we need to get the word out. Not only should we be creating support networks for women who are victims of this abuse, but we need to alert the general public to the fact that this happens and that it IS abuse.

    (I anticipate that as awareness of reproductive control as abuse spreads, we will see a backlash from male rights activists and other conservatives – arguments such as “but isn’t a woman controlling her partner’s reproduction if she chooses to have an abortion” and “but women poke holes in condoms all the time – can we make that illegal, too?” The more public we make the problem of reproductive control, and the more we advocate for protection against and justice for it, the more public these false arguments will become. So we should be ready for them, ready to stand up and hold our ground on women’s safety and bodily autonomy, just as we already do with regards to domestic abuse, rape, and abortion legality.)

  2. Wow. This is an important story. Thanks for posting it.

  3. Well, in terms of practical solutions, I can only offer two ideas.

    For women who are being forced into an abortion:

    Teach abortion providers to properly counsel women and make sure they want it. Not in a “this could change your life, are your sure?” way, but more in the, “is this your own decision, or is someone else making this choice for you?” way. Teach the docs to universally offer women access to information (including where to get protection) for this cause. Women who are confidently making their choice can ignore it, while women who aren’t can take a look without having to deal with the intimidating factor of having to ASK for it.

    For women who are being forced out of an abortion:

    Simply? Make non-surgical abortions easier to access – and in a way where it won’t have to show up on medical histories or insurance receipts, for women who are married or otherwise have legal connections to their partners. Having an abortion and making it seem like an unintended miscarriage would be the practical solution for many women. Ideally, we would want to give them ways to defy their partners and take legit control, but for many women, that simply is not an option, and until it is, things like this can help.

    Also, something which I think needs to be addressed in this issue – underage girls who are forced by their parents to give a birth they don’t want or have an abortion they don’t want. Many girls don’t share the same beliefs as their parents, and many of the states’ laws demanding girls notify their parents or get their consent only hurt girls – and they need to change. They need to be among the first to change, too, because if girls are taught in their childhood/teenage years that their choice is not their own, why should they believe any different once they’re adults?

    That’s all I’ve got. Hopefully it will help.

  4. Thanks for raising awareness of this issue. I think you’ve already got the right idea: education is possibly the most important step toward helping the public come to grips with a problem. You’d think it would be blatantly obvious that coercive/violent control of another person is inhumane and unconscionable, but I suppose–considering that even by the 1970s marital rape had not yet been criminalized in the U.S.–it probably should not be surprising how far we still have to go.

  5. melanie c says:

    Forced castration at legal clinics run by wronged women!

    Write on sisters….

  6. antinatalist says:

    there needs to be a way for men to sign out of being a father
    if theres financial issues, its only fair, women can have abortions
    men should not be held to ransom for one mistake

    and what if the potential father has ethical issues with creating life?
    there should be automatic abortion unless both parents agree to a child being born

    • feministlove says:

      Wow you are a disgusting mysoginist. Why do you think that a man has any right to determin what happens to a woman's body wether she wants to have a baby or an abortion. And yes men should be held "ransom" when they make "mistakes", thats the reality women live with every day

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