Domestic Abuse And Abortion Bans Create ‘A Very Dangerous Recipe’ Post-Roe

A new report highlights the connection between abortion access and intimate partner violence since the Supreme Court repealed federal abortion protections two years ago.

The report, conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline in collaboration with If/When/How, surveyed over 3,400 people between October and December 2023. The organizations wanted to learn more about survivor experiences with reproductive coercion, intimate partner violence and the threat of criminalization in a post-Roe v. Wade world (though, not all domestic violence experiences included in the survey happened during the survey window). Reproductive coercion and reproductive abuse are umbrella terms that describe situations including when an abusive partner controls pregnancy outcomes, coerces someone into unprotected sex or tampers with birth control methods, among other tactics.

The survey found that 63% of all respondents were pressured or forced into having sex with a current or former partner when they didn’t want to, and nearly 40% said their partner threatened them if they said no to sex. Around a quarter reported that their partner pressured them into becoming pregnant, and 13% said their partner used or threatened violence while they were pregnant with the intention of ending the pregnancy. More than 30% of respondents said they do not have access to an OB-GYN or physician who focuses on reproductive health. The survey was conducted on the Hotline’s website and all responses were anonymous.

“When you have a country that has now allowed abusive partners to be completely emboldened in restricting access to health care, in allowing someone to feel like they cannot control their own bodies, and when the states and the country decides to say, ‘Actually, no, your bodies aren’t your own.’ It is a very dangerous recipe, and the findings underscore that,” Crystal Justice, the chief external affairs officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said in a Monday press briefing.

Abortion access and intimate partner violence are inherently linked because pregnancy is an extremely dangerous time for victims of intimate partner violence. 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.

“We often think of these life events like a marriage or a pregnancy being some of the most happiest times of our lives,” Justice added. “They are some of the most dangerous, and often the times when we see violence and abuse escalate in an abusive situation.”

Survivors are being forced to walk the line of isolation and safety to get the abortion care that they need, while also minimizing their risks of criminalization and punishment by their abuser as well as the state.Noran Elzarka, If/When/How

The report includes testimonials from respondents who shared their experiences with reproductive coercion. Many describe their abusive partner controlling and monitoring their birth control, prohibiting them from speaking to a physician alone, forcing a miscarriage, threatening to kill them if they got pregnant, or threatening to kill them if they got an abortion.

“The overturning [of] Roe v. Wade destroyed my sense of safety and my life,” one respondent told NDVH and If/When/How. Another said they were “controlled, abused badly, and had a knife pressed against my belly,” each pregnancy.

One respondent recalled how her “late abusive husband would purposely impregnate me to force me to abort.” Another said that during her relationship with her abuser, “he would force me to have unprotected sex so [I] could have more children to further my financial and economic abuse making it harder for me to leave.” The majority of the respondents were white women, but the survey did include men, non-binary and transgender people.

Pregnancy and children are often used as another tool to control a victim ― an experience that was echoed by one survivor of intimate partner violence during Monday’s press call. “Every child that you have with someone like that [an abuser] is one more tie to them. It is one more thing that makes you their possession,” EL DuBois, a survivor, and co-founder of the Twisted Crown Foundation, told reporters. “My daughter, I learned very early on, was not a child to him. She was a possession. She was something to be used against me.”

Since Roe fell, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline about reproductive coercion have doubled across the country, according to an October report. Noran Elzarka, who works as an attorney for If/When/How’s legal helpline, said they’ve been hearing from more callers who are experiencing domestic violence and need reproductive health care.

“Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, our helpline has seen an increase in callers who are weighing the risks of their abusive relationship against the access to abortion,” Elzarka said. “Survivors are being forced to walk the line of isolation and safety to get the abortion care that they need, while also minimizing their risks of criminalization and punishment by their abuser as well as the state.”

As Justice, from NDVH, summed it up: “If I can’t control my own body, how in the world can I control my journey to safety?”

Scroll below to read more of the report from the National Domestic Violence Hotline and If/When/How.

Reproductive Coercion and Abuse Report by Alanna Vagianos on Scribd

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.