Reproductive coercion is a group of behaviours that obstruct decision making in relation to reproductive health. In the same way as other forms of domestic abuse these behaviours are intended to maintain power and control over someone. The perpetrator will be the current, past or intended intimate or romantic partner. However it can also be perpetrated by parents or in laws.
It was first defined by someone called Elizabeth Miller and her colleagues in 2010 and is a hidden form of violence against women. It is very rarely talked about or understood. This is because there can be some confusion around what constitutes reproductive coercion and other types of abuse. For example, if a pregnant woman is kicked and punched to such an extent that she miscarries her baby, is this reproductive coercion or is it physical abuse??
Essentially, there are three forms of reproductive coercion. Pregnancy coercion, birth control obstruction, and controlling the outcome of a pregnancy.
Reproductive coercion and domestic abuse and violence are strongly connected. However, reproductive coercion can happen in abusive relationships where sexual and physical abuse does not exist. Although research and data are patchy, it is thought that women in abusive relationships are at higher risk of reproductive coercion and reproductive coercion is considered to be a serious issue.
Forms of Reproductive Coercion
Pregnancy coercion includes any behavior intended to coerce or pressure a partner to become pregnant or to not become pregnant! They may coerce or pressure a partner to get them pregnant. Pregnancy coercion involves many different tactics, including verbal threats related to becoming pregnant, coerced sex, refusal to use contraception such as condoms or the withdrawal method, interfere with or pressure the victim/survivor not to use contraception such as the pill or an IUD, monitoring menstrual cycles or gynecological visits, pressure for or against sterilisation and monitoring of ovulation. Threatened or actual physical violence may also be perpetrated against a victim/survivor to coerce them to become pregnant or coerce a partner to get them pregnant.
Birth control sabotage
Birth control sabotage involves interfering with contraception or interfering with the use of contraception. Birth control sabotage includes removing a condom after agreeing to wear one, damaging a condom, removing or lying about the use of contraception, such as IUD’s or contraceptive patches, or lying about the use of the contraceptive pill. Other methods of birth control can be used including stopping a partner from getting contraceptive prescriptions, refusing to wear a condom, saying that a condom is being worn when it isn’t, not withdrawing after agreeing to do so, not telling a partner after stopping the use of the contraceptive pill or taking out an IUD.
Controlling the outcome of a pregnancy
Controlling the outcome of a pregnancy is an attempt to try to influence a partner to continue or terminate a pregnancy. This can include coercion around having an abortion, or pressuring, threatening, or forcing a partner to have an abortion. There is a policy by the Guttmacher Institute which states that forcing a woman to terminate a pregnancy she wants or to continue a pregnancy she does not want violates the basic human rights of reproductive health.
Although data is patchy, it has been reported that in October 2018, in America, reproductive coercion was reported by 5-14% of women in family planning clinics. In Nigeria and India the data is higher.
It is important to remember that although not talked about as much as any of the other forms of domestic abuse, reproductive coercion should be included in the list of the many ways a person can perpetrate domestic abuse.