OUR reproductive-health clinics
received a bomb threat on Oct. 1. We thought it might have been the work of an anti-abortion extremist. But it turned out the threat came from
a woman’s ex-partner trying to prevent her abortion.
This incident at Cedar River Clinics shows how women can be threatened by partners and ex-partners when exercising their rights and self-determination over their bodies and lives.
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At the end of November, the man pleaded guilty to charges of threatening to bomb our property and interfering with a health-care facility. A bomb threat at our clinics is rare. Domestic violence, including threats and violence around reproductive health and choice, is not.
This threat was a tactic of reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when a partner or ex-partner uses intimidation, threats of violence or sabotage against his or her partner’s reproductive health or interferes with the partner’s reproductive decisions and choices. It includes forcing or tricking a partner into having unprotected sex, sabotaging birth control, forcing a partner to become pregnant, and preventing or forcing an abortion.
Pregnancy is often the focus of reproductive coercion. Abusers may see pregnancy as a way to further control a woman and to establish a lifetime connection. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 21 women in the U.S. has had a partner try to get her pregnant against her will.
Women and teens with abusive partners are five times more likely to have unwanted pregnancies.
Abusers may be threatened by pregnancy and see it as a sign of losing control of their partners. Abuse can escalate out of resentment toward either the partner or the potential child.
The Pan American Health Organization found pregnant women are 61 percent more likely to be beaten than women who are not pregnant. The most startling statistic is that homicide is the second leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant women in the U.S., according to Futures Without Violence.
Abortion can help women escape an abusive relationship. A study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health followed women who were denied abortion because they were too far along. It found that a year after being denied an abortion, 7 percent of women reported an incident of domestic violence in the last six months, compared with only 3 percent of the women who had received abortions. It wasn’t the patterns of abuse that changed. Women who ended their pregnancies were able to leave the abusive relationship.
For women experiencing domestic violence, information and access to birth control, emergency contraception and abortion is critical. It helps them retain their reproductive autonomy. Because women might not be safe or comfortable disclosing an abusive relationship, access to information should be readily available without having to ask for it.
There are many ways to help. If you are a health-care provider, give information to your patients about birth control that can’t be seen, felt or sabotaged. If you are a social-services provider or counselor, place a list of reproductive health providers in waiting areas and women’s restrooms.
If you are a person who cares about the safety and freedom of women, please stay informed. Attacks on reproductive health rights are multiplying around the country, down to the local level. Join email lists of pro-choice organizations for alerts and contact your elected officials when political actions threaten domestic violence programs or access to birth control, emergency contraception and abortion. Vote in all elections to keep reproductive options legal and easy to obtain.
Without access, the freedom of choice is meaningless.
Mercedes Sanchez is communications and education director at Cedar River Clinics, which provides abortion, birth control and reproductive health care in Renton and Tacoma.