Anti-Abortion Laws Linked To Increase In Domestic Violence Deaths, Study Shows

Anti-abortion laws increase the likelihood that pregnant victims of domestic violence will be murdered by their abusive partner, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in a leading peer-reviewed health care journal Health Affairs, looked at data from 2014 to 2020 to analyze the link between anti-abortion laws and intimate partner violence before the Dobbs decision that repealed Roe v. Wade. The authors of the study were prompted to research this intersection because of one indisputable fact: Murder by an abusive partner is the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women in the U.S. ― outpacing medical issues like sepsis and hemorrhage.

For some victims of intimate partner violence, pregnancy can increase the severity of violence, while for others it can actually initiate abuse in a relationship that was not violent beforehand.

Enforcement of just one targeted regulation of abortion providers, also known as a TRAP law, is associated with a 3.4% increase in the rate of intimate partner violence-related homicides, according to the study. Just over 24 domestic violence murders of women and girls between the ages of 10 to 44 during the timeframe analyzed were associated with TRAP laws.

These laws often lead to clinic closures, which can completely cut off access to abortion care in a region. Even before Roe fell, TRAP laws made it difficult for many people to get abortions. If a victim of domestic violence can’t access an abortion because their local clinic closed, that victim stays pregnant and is exposed to more lethal violence throughout their pregnancy and the postpartum period.

“We know that TRAP laws were some of the most commonly-enacted abortion restrictions across states for the past decade before the Dobbs decision came down,” Maeve Wallace, lead author of the study and a reproductive health care epidemiologist at Tulane University, told HuffPost.

“TRAP laws lead to abortion clinic closures, therefore making it more difficult for people to get abortions, especially people without resources who might be in dangerous situations in terms of violence in the home,” she added, noting that TRAP laws are “politically motivated attempts to close clinics.”

TRAP laws are state-level restrictions that are designed to make it harder for abortion clinics and staff to provide care. This type of legislation has been weaponized against abortion clinics since the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which ruled that states were legally allowed to restrict abortion access as long as it did not impose an “undue burden” on patients.

Under the guise of protecting women’s health, TRAP laws go far beyond what’s medically necessary and create a logistical nightmare for clinics to stay open. Some examples of TRAP laws include requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, mandating that clinics be located a certain distance away from schools and forcing physicians to share private medical information to the state government. Most states, including pro-choice states, had some TRAP laws in effect pre-Dobbs, and many still do.

Other research suggests that abortion access plays a critical role in reducing intimate partner violence. The Turnaway Study, landmark research published in 2020, found that abortion access can help reduce domestic violence because victims are able to choose whether they want to share a child with their abuser ― a link that lasts a lifetime and makes it harder to leave an abuser.

Now, with 20 states that have abortion bans or severe restrictions in place, the problem is likely to get much worse, Wallace said. Although, she pointed to increased awareness and education around abortion, including access to medication abortion through the mail, as one possible reason to be hopeful. Since Roe fell, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline about reproductive coercion have doubled across the country.