By Sunny Lim
In healthy relationships, partners respect each another’s autonomy and choices. In abusive relationships, bodily autonomy disappears and transforms into a term known as reproductive coercion.
According to Love is Respect, reproductive coercion occurs when a person prevents their partner controlling their reproductive health. Reproductive coercion is a form of sexual abuse. Abusers use this tactic to gain power and control over their partner such as forcing them to become pregnant by tampering with their birth control.
Forced sterilization of people with disabilities during the eugenics movement in the United States is also an example of reproductive coercion.
In the context of domestic violence, reproductive coercion is one of the many tactics abusers use to gain control within the relationship. The full definition of domestic violence is a set of behaviors used by a person gain control over the partner. Reproductive coercion fits into the overall definition of domestic violence by being one of the behavioral tactics employed by abusers to prevent their partners from escaping. The Duluth Model’s Power and Control Wheel shows what the dynamics of an abusive relationship are like–the wheel has a list of a behaviors abusers use to control the victim. These behaviors include examples such as intimidation, emotional abuse, threats, and coercion.
Reproductive coercion falls under all these behaviors. However, it can be difficult to identify what reproductive coercion looks like in our lives.
Examples of reproductive coercion include:
- Lying about being on birth control or having a vasectomy
- Preventing their partner from using any type of birth control
- Threatening violence if their partner conceives or doesn’t conceive
- Intentionally giving their partner a sexually transmitted disease
- Forcing their partner to get an abortion or not to
- Monitoring their partner’s menstruation cycle
- Sabotaging birth control by throwing away pills or poking holes in condoms
- Refusing to take into account what their partner says about pregnancy and when they want to become pregnant
- Refusing to use condoms and birth control
- Stealthing: removing a condom during intercourse without alerting your partner
- Preventing your partner from buying birth control and condoms through financial abuse
- Replacing their partner’s birth control pills with objects that look similar but aren’t actual contraceptive methods
- Hiding their partner’s birth control
Abusers use reproductive coercion because they see it as another way to make the victims stay. Forced pregnancy is seen as an anchor that ties the victim back to the abuser. Some abusers also believe the victim will endure violence for the child. They also know it will be harder for the victim to leave the relationship because the victim will struggle with supporting their child financially.
It doesn’t help that some people don’t see reproductive coercion as a problem or something they shouldn’t do. When Pete Davidson joked he replaced Ariana Grande’s birth control pills with Tic Tacs to prevent her from leaving him, there was righteous uproar. It was an example of reproductive coercion that Davidson tried to pass off as a “funny joke.”
Reproductive coercion leaves women more vulnerable when seeking assistance since some domestic violence shelters don’t allow pregnant women to stay. If you are seeking assistance because of reproductive coercion, please let your doctor or your gynecologist know. They can provide less noticeable contraceptive methods such as administering a birth control shot.
Although some people are unaware of reproductive coercion being an abusive tactic, it’s more prevalent than suspected. Last fall, a survey conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found four out of ten survivors of domestic violence reported their partner tried to coerce them into conceiving without consent.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recognizes reproductive coercion as an act of violence, but the law lags behind. In the United States, there is no law that officially recognizes reproductive coercion as its own separate crime. However, there are some legal protections such as filing personal injury claims against people who intentionally passed off a sexually transmitted disease to others and anti-rape laws. There are no laws recognizing the sabotage of contraceptive methods as a crime yet, but anti-domestic violence advocates are working on passing legal protections.
If you or someone you know needs help because of reproductive coercion, please call the 24/7 hotline (1-800-799-7233) or confidential chat offered through The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.