Enacting barriers to abortion could ultimately subject women to increased levels of intimate partner violence, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. That’s because continuing an unwanted pregnancy is associated with continued physical abuse within a violent relationship.
Amid a national conversation about how to better address domestic violence, thanks to ongoing controversy over the NFL’s response to the issue, there hasn’t been much discussion about abortion. But there’s actually a lot of research illuminating the link between the two. For instance, a 1998 study from the country’s largest OB-GYN group found a “prevalence” of domestic abuse among the women seeking abortion services. A 2012 study reported that as many as 25 percent of the women who have abortions have been subject to domestic violence. The individuals who want to end a pregnancy are seven times more likely to be a victim of abuse.
So it’s clear that women in abusive relationships often want to end their pregnancies. The new research, however, is perhaps the first investigation into whether going through with an abortion might affect the level of abuse plaguing those victims. It’s part of a larger “Turnaway Study” documenting the effects of denying women access to abortion care.
Researchers found that having an abortion was associated with a decline in physical abuse perpetrated by the man involved in the pregnancy. But, among the women who weren’t able to have the abortion that they wanted, continuing the pregnancy didn’t lead to a similar drop. “This finding is consistent with our hypothesis that having a baby with an abusive man, compared to terminating the unwanted pregnancy, makes it harder to leave the abusive relationship,” the researchers conclude.
Intimate partner violence has a lot of consequences for women’s reproductive health. Experts in the field say that abusers often use what’s known as “reproductive coercion” to interfere with their victims’ birth control methods. An abusive partner might refuse to wear a condom during sex, throw away their victim’s birth control pills, or even try to pull out her intrauterine device (IUD). That obviously puts women at risk for an unintended pregnancy, a method of control that leaves them more likely to be dependent on their abusive partner. Nonetheless, forcing a woman to get pregnant isn’t actually considered to be a crime.
The UCSF researchers conducting the “Turnaway Study” have also found that the women who are denied access to abortion are more likely to slip deeper into poverty and more likely to struggle with anxiety.
Nonetheless, thanks to an increasing number of harsh state-level abortion restrictions across the country, many U.S. women have difficulty legally ending a pregnancy. They struggle to save enough money for the procedure, make the long trip to the nearest clinic as harsh laws are forcing many clinics to close, and schedule an appointment before their pregnancy is too far along. For instance, according to researchers in Texas, which recently enacted one of the harshest packages of anti-abortion laws in the country, more than 22,000 women may be denied a legal abortion this year.