Allowing Domestic Violence Perpetrators to Carry Guns Will Worsen the U.S. Maternal Health Crisis

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 9:15 a.m. ET, gun safety and domestic violence prevention advocates will rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi. Oral arguments will begin at 10 a.m.

The right to life and reproductive autonomy includes the right to live free from violence at the hands of intimate partners.

Hundreds march in a rally in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on July 2, 2022, in Long Beach, Calif. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Rahimi, a case in which the Court will decide whether the Second Amendment prevents the government from protecting survivors of domestic violence by temporarily disarming their abusers. Invalidating this law would exacerbate an already colossal maternal and reproductive health and rights crisis in the United States and have devastating consequences—as the Center for Reproductive Rights (where I work) argued in an amicus brief to the Court.

Violence against women is a pervasive problem globally, but in the U.S., the lethal combination of intimate partner violence (IPV) against women and guns is staggering. Eighty percent of intimate partner firearm homicide victims are women. And pregnancy can further increase the risk of IPV and intensify violence already experienced in abusive relationships—especially when it comes to guns. Between 2008-2019, 68 percent of pregnancy-related homicides involved firearms—a number that rose to 81 percent in 2020.  

The intersection of IPV, gun violence and pregnancy is an issue of both gender and racial justice. People of color, and others whose communities have been subject to decades of discrimination and structural disadvantage, disproportionately experience the harms of IPV and gun violence. The threat of homicide for Black women who are pregnant is more than eight times higher than for all Black women. In 2020, 55 percent of pregnant homicide victims were Black.  

IPV also threatens the lives of people who do not want to be pregnant. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a 100 percent increase in calls about reproductive coercion. This is a form of domestic violence in which abusers attempt to control their partner’s reproductive agency.

Guns make reproductive coercion lethal—a fatal reality witnessed this year when Texan Gabriella Gonzalez was murdered by her boyfriend because she got an abortion.

In short, for those at risk of IPV and gun violence, it is even more deadly to be pregnant at a time when a national maternal and reproductive health crisis is already threatening the lives of millions of people during pregnancy and postpartum.

Disarming abusers subject to restraining orders is just one of the steps governments have taken to tackle these threats. And the evidence suggests that laws like the one at issue in Rahimi are making a difference. Several studies show that state laws prohibiting gun possession by abusers were associated with reductions in homicides of pregnant people. But if the Court holds the federal law at stake in Rahimi unconstitutional, it will create a devastating domino effect—quickly taking down state-level protections nationwide.

It also could have far-ranging implications for personal liberty and equality rights. Proponents of gun rights in this case, like the opponents of abortion rights in Dobbs, advance an “originalist” approach to constitutional interpretation—a method that, disingenuously, claims to objectively adhere to an “original” understanding of constitutional rights when written. But this approach would dangerously bind our country to laws dating to the 1700s when women and people of color had little to no rights. By design, originalism rejects our nation’s history and tradition of including more groups within constitutional protection.

To the extent U.S. history has been one of exclusion and discrimination, it requires judicial rectification, not replication. If the Court accepts the extremist view that the Second Amendment prevents government from protecting the constitutional rights of women and pregnant people subject to IPV and gun violence, it will compound real world harms for this population—as evidenced by homicide statistics for pregnant people and the public health emergency that resulted from the Dobbs decision.

The right to life and reproductive autonomy includes the right to live free from violence at the hands of intimate partners. Remedying the maternal health crisis and protecting the reproductive rights of all people requires systemic change on many fronts. Prevention of IPV and gun violence is one essential way to address this deadly intersection. The Supreme Court must refuse to perpetuate this discriminatory originalist approach.

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Tamar Eisen (she/her) is the program coordinator for judicial strategy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she contributes to legal research and the development of strategies to advance and protect reproductive rights in the courts.