Texas Case Shows How Abortion Bans Facilitate Domestic Abuse

The Silva case illustrates how abortion bans add another weapon to an abuser’s controlling arsenal.

Medication abortion typically uses two FDA-approved oral medications to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol. The organization Plan C has a comprehensive guide to finding abortion pills on their website. (Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images)

Court records and police reports indicate that the Texas man who recently sued his wife’s friends for helping her obtain an abortion has a long history of coercively controlling her. Coercive control is a type of domestic abuse that can include isolation, manipulation, monitoring, intimidation and verbal, legal, physical and sexual abuse. The goal is to dominate the partner. Coercive contol often includes depriving the partner of resources such as money and friends. The Texas case is an example of how abortion bans give domestic abusers an additional way  to control and harass their partners.

Brittni Silva found out she was pregnant after filing for divorce from Marcus Silva in May of 2022. Her abusive husband searched her phone, finding text messages where she discussed getting an abortion with three friends. He photographed the texts, where the friends helped Brittni Silva date her pregnancy as early in the first trimester, and obtain abortion pills. He then went into his wife’s purse without her permission and found the pills. After waiting until she had taken the pills, he then threatened to report her to the police, even though abortion was legal in Texas at the time. Brittni Silva texted her friends: “So now he’s saying if I don’t give him my ‘mind body and soul’ until the end of the divorce, which he’s going to drag out, he’s going to make sure I go to jail for doing it.”

In March, Marcus Silva sued his ex-wife’s three friends for $1 million each for conspiracy to commit wrongful death. His lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell, was the architect of the 2021 Texas bounty hunter law that deputized private citizens to sue anyone helping a woman obtain an abortion, with a promise of a $10,000 award.

Last week, two of the friends, Jackie Noyola and Amy Carpenter, countersued Silva for invasion of privacy for reading their private messages to Brittni Silva without her permission. Silva reported her husband had a history of abusive behavior, including burning their wedding photos and threatening the family dog. She once called the police because he was harassing her.

The facts that have emerged in the Silva case appear to be a classic pattern of coercive control. Several states now have laws against coercive control, including California, Hawaii, Colorado, and Connecticut. Other states are considering similar laws, including New York and  Massachusetts, where a proposal to ban abusive litigation is also currently under consideration. Several countries, including Scotland, France, England, Wales and Ireland, have adopted coercive control laws over the last decade.

Legal abuse can be a component of coercive control. This is where someone uses the courts to harass, intimidate, threaten, control, coerce, impoverish, or maintain contact with their victim. Examples include knowingly filing false claims of child abuse, filing frivolous motions related to child custody, or bringing claims with no legal or factual basis. Legal abuse costs survivors time and money, and subjects them to the emotional trauma of repeatedly and unnecessarily having to face off against their abuser in court. Silva’s lawsuit appears to be a form of legal abuse, using this lawsuit to coercively control Brittni Silva and her friends.

A key tactic of coercive control is isolating a victim from friends and family. S.B. 8 and lawsuits like Silva’s attempt to do just that–cut women off from supporters who might help them access reproductive health care in times of crisis when they need it most. More generally, abortion bans give coercively controlling men more power to abuse the women in their lives with threats to turn them over to the police or sue people who support them in obtaining an abortion..

Threats to turn a woman over to the police, or sue her friends and family members if they help her obtain an abortion is reproductive coercion, aided by the state. The Silva case illustrates how this state coercion adds another weapon to an abuser’s controlling arsenal.

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About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., is author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship. She is a senior lecturer in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and trains people globally on topics related to violence against women and children.