Reproductive Coercion, Domestic Violence and Anti-Choice Laws

3049468198_4aa4e5eef9As Martha Kempner recently reported, Roman Polanski—admitted rapist and all-around creep—doesn’t like it when women can control their own fertility. “I think that the Pill has changed greatly the woman of our times, ‘masculinizing’ her,” he said, firmly characterizing the ability to control your own body as a male-only privilege. “I think that it chases away the romance from our lives and that’s a great pity.” Polanski, who pled guilty to plying a 13-year-old with alcohol in order to make it easier to forcibly penetrate her, thinks that the way to preserve “romance” is to keep women in a state of fear of pregnancy at male whims.

Sadly, as research is beginning to bear out, this violent man’s negative attitudes toward female reproductive autonomy are not merely the eccentricities of an aging misogynist. A lot of men, it turns out, get off on having power over women’s bodies, and are willing to bully, coerce and even trick women into pregnancy to get that feeling of power over them. It’s called “reproductive coercion,” and it’s way more common that was previously thought, as Kat Stoeffel reports for The Cut.

Stoeffel references a recent study by Dr. Lindsay Clark of the Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I., in which 641 women who received routine care were asked if they had been threatened or bullied by their partners into getting pregnant or had even had their partners mess with their contraception by hiding pills or poking holes in condoms. A shocking 16 percent had experienced such abuse, a number which reflects other, still preliminary studies that show a widespread problem of men trying to force pregnancy on unwilling partners. The problem is both so common and so hidden that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists is recommending that doctors screen for reproductive coercion in addition to more traditional screening for domestic violence.

Why do men who engage in reproductive coercion do such a thing? Don’t they know that if they successfully force their partners to give birth, they, too, will be responsible for the baby that results? The behavior is definitely not rational if the goal is a harmonious, happy sex and family life. But domestic abusers don’t want a harmonious, happy life. On the contrary, most of them are perfectly happy, often downright eager, to sacrifice happiness and peace in order to get the buzz of feeling powerful and in control, specifically in control of their female partners. Being so in control that you control her body functions is the ultimate form of control.

In fact, this need to feel in control is so overwhelming for some abusive men that they will actually force women to get pregnant and then try to force them to abort. In a 2010 piece for The Nation on reproductive coercion, Lynn Harris told the story of a young woman in an abusive relationship whose boyfriend-captor would hide her birth control pills. When she inevitably got pregnant, he tried to beat her into submitting to an abortion. When she refused, he kicked her in the stomach and even pushed her down the stairs in an attempt to induce a miscarriage. Despite the abuse, the woman remained pregnant, and she eventually escaped the relationship with her young son.

In most cases, however, the abuser sees forced childbirth as a way to tie his victim to him, making it harder for her to leave and giving him that desperately desired control. As Harris wrote in another piece summarizing the “red flags” of reproductive control, one thing to look out for is men who talk about making babies as a way for women to “prove” their love, claim contraception is only used by cheaters, or see conceiving as a demonstration of their power and virility. These are abusive men who are more interesting in forcing people into relationships with them than they are in being good, loving partners.

Then there’s the most common kind of reproductive coercion: Guys who slip off condoms or refuse to wear them simply because they get a thrill out of getting one over on their partner. It’s a sort of sexual assault lite, where he can get the buzz off dominating his partner sexually without her consent without running the risk of getting the police involved.

We tend to think of anti-choice antics as a separate issue from violence against women, except when anti-choice politicians slip up on occasion and say something that minimizes rape. Considering this small but growing body of research, we really should take a harder look at the connections between abuse of women and reproductive control. The abuser who hides the birth control pills, the sleaze who slips off the condom, the anti-choice protester yelling invective at women seeking abortions and the politician writing laws to make it harder to get contraception and abortion are all pieces of the same puzzle. All of them want to take away a woman’s basic right to self-determination, and all of them do it because they subscribe to an ideology that paints men as the natural dominators and even owners of women.

Indeed, looking over the extensive use of reproductive coercion by abusive men, it’s hard to deny that the best friend of a woman-beater is the anti-choice politician. Slip off the condom during sex to force her to get pregnant? Thanks to anti-choice lobbying, she’s going to have a hard time getting emergency contraception to thwart your plans. Keep hiding her birth control pills so that she has to go explain to her doctor why she needs more? Luckily for abusers, anti-choicers are shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics, making it both more expensive and more time-consuming for women to get that done. Successfully impregnate a woman you’re trying to trap with a baby? Thanks to anti-choicers, she may not be able to afford to travel across 10 counties to the nearest clinic to get an abortion and get away from you.

Indeed, if we want to help women get out of abusive relationships, it’s increasingly becoming clear that one of the most important steps we can take is reversing the tide of anti-choice legislation.

Article reprinted from RH Reality Check. Read the original story here.

Photo courtesy of Nehko via Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Quote: “Indeed, if we want to help women get out of abusive relationships, it’s increasingly becoming clear that one of the most important steps we can take is reversing the tide of anti-choice legislation.”

    Absolutely. In the meantime, pointing out the signs of reproductive coercion in abusive men may prevent more women from falling into the trap of abusive relationships as well. Thanks so much for this article. I think women and girls need to see more information along this line.

  2. This article is spot-on. Reproductive coercion and anti-choice activity are the same. I have been doing pregnancy counseling for 37 years, at Planned Parenthood and in private practice as a psychotherapist, and I can attest that reproductive coercion is real, common, and devastating. And I believe that forced abortion following forced pregnancy is more common than the researches yet know.

  3. Margarita says:

    I have been in this situation about two and a half years ago. I did not know that it was reproductive coercion until lately that I did some research on this. It started all as innocent as it could. I was fresh out of long term relationship and was feeling hurt and lonely as broken as anyone would after leaving an almost 5 year relationship where a lot was invested emotionally. I had a friend, a fellow artist, who seemed to be sweet and nice and who was there to support me emotionally. next thing you know I felt intimate feelings toward him and it was mutual. now, that I look at it, I know it was a rebound and I should have never got involved with him intimately. We had sex couple times and after second time he said that we were now smitten and a couple. Ina normal emotional state of mind I would chuckle like I always do in the beginning of new relationship and would told him that he was going too fast, but back then it did not cross my mind. As we go more and more involved he started telling me that I should not hang out with my friends and what type of music I could not listen to, and that I was not allowed to ever interact with anyone I was ever romantically involved and on and on. Red flags started popping up all over and I still refused to acknowledge them even though I saw them clearly. Things went south (literally as he moved back to his native Oklahoma) when he said he wished I was pregnant from him already. He knew I was on birth control and at some point I told him that I thought my IUD slipped out and that we better be careful. Luckily I live in California where access to emergency birth control is easy. I went and got Plan-B one step at the pharmacy to take right after we had sex on the day I thought my IUD was misplaced. I made my doc’s appointment that confirmed my fears about IUD and got two packs of pills from my doctor to take while my new IUD arrives. The guy, who was now, back in Oklahoma, listening to his Baptist mother’s religious rants, was intimidating me on the phone about why I need a birth control when we were not having sex if not to have sex with others. I clearly told him that I was not interested to get pregnant at that time and that pills and other long term birth control methods take at one, sometimes two cycles to fully work. I went to Oklahoma to visit him and the art piece he was working on. By then I already had my new Mirena IUD while still finishing the last pack of pills. I caught him one day going through my purse and throwing away the remaining pack for my pills. What he did not know was my IUD was firmly in place and by then I already went through two full cycles so I was not at pregnancy risk. After I came back he continuously shamed on the phone for not wanted to “bear my baby” and telling me that if I did not want a baby, that was ok, and all I have to do and just carry it and he and his mom will raise it. Crazy! I dumped him that same year to never look back. I escaped fairly easily, considering that I have never heard from him since and he left me alone. I took time off the dating and concentrated on my career, creating my own happy single life while raising my now 11 yo daughter from my one and only marriage. I pretty much gave up on the idea of dating and felt I accomplished a lot by bettering myself without anyone’s help and creating my own happy life. And when I least expected it, my boyfriend came into my life. At first as a casual dating/sex/have fun with guy. I enjoyed that time and was blown away when he asked me to be his girlfriend two and a half months into our dating. I accepted and now I am very happy. I was happy before I met him and now happy to share my happiness with him. Sometimes, when I look back, I cringe of the thought I could ever become pregnant from that creep but then again, I would abort for sure and there came the point that his overwhelming control was suffocating me while he called it “carrying for my woman.” Ladies, never settle down for less than what you deserve!

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