Anti-rape and domestic violence advocates have long known that a significant feature of many abusive straight relationships is unwanted pregnancy as the result of male sabotage of birth control—or, in some cases, disallowing their partners to use birth control altogether. Our culture is rife with narratives about women who "trap" men by "getting themselves pregnant," but rarely discussed are the stories of abusive men who poke holes in condoms, flush their partners' birth control pills down the toilet, monitor their partners' periods to ensure they're not using birth control, and in other ways try to control their partners' reproduction, because a child will keep them connected for life.
But earlier this month, Elizabeth Miller (whose name may be familiar), an assistant professor of pediatrics at University of California, Davis, published a new study in the journal Contraception addressing "reproductive coercion."
[Reproductive coercion] is when the male partner pressures the other, through verbal threats, physical aggression, or birth-control sabotage, to become pregnant. According to Miller's research, about a third of women reporting partner violence experienced reproductive coercion, as did 15 percent of women who had never reported violence.Younger women are also, of course, less likely to be making a living wage on which they can support themselves, particularly if they have already become pregnant. Abusive partners aren't seeking to create a baby; they're seeking to create a dependency in their partners.
Overall, rates of reproductive coercion among family-planning-clinic patients are surprisingly high: about one in five women report their partner having attempted to coerce them into pregnancy. "What we're seeing is that, in the larger scheme of violence against women and girls, it is another way to maintain control," says Miller, who studied 1,300 female patients culled from five family-planning clinics in Northern California. "You have guys telling their partners, 'I can do this because I'm in control' or 'I want to know that I can have you forever.' " This may help explain previous findings of higher rates of unintended pregnancies in relationships with partner violence.
The women in Miller's study were between 16 to 29; Miller will publish a study later in 2010 that finds similar numbers in demographics of older women. That said, younger women may have a more difficult time dealing with reproductive coercion: they have less experience in relationships, and, if they are minors, less access to doctors' appointments and emergency contraception. Particularly for teenagers in relationships with older men, the age difference "may have profound implications for perceived and actual reproductive choices for young adult women," Miller wrote in a 2007 paper on the same subject. "Such factors may also lead to fewer adolescents reporting such reproductive control as abusive, forced, or coercive." Put another way, teenage girls are at greater risk of not recognizing reproductive coercion as problematic, and allowing it to continue.
Which is why there exists a "men's reproductive rights movement" that seeks to wrest control of reproductive decisions from women.
It is also almost certainly, in part, why murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in America, many of whom are actively trying to leave the men who murder them when they are slain.
[H/T to Shaker Broce.]