New Study Says Reproductive Coercion Needs To Be Taken More Seriously

We've heard the stories: sexual partners refusing to wear condoms, hiding birth control pills, or forcing someone to terminate or keep a pregnancy. These actions fall under reproductive coercion, a form of intimate partner violence that is often neglected when we discuss sexual and emotional abuse. But a new review, published last week in the American Journal of of Obstetrics and Gynecology, argues reproductive coercion is a public health issue that has a major, life-altering impact on women.

According to researchers, reproductive coercion "interferes with the contraception and pregnancy choices of women," usually when a woman's partner creates a dangerous power imbalance. This includes what researchers called pregnancy pressure (forcing your partner to get pregnant) and pregnancy coercion (threatening your partner once she's pregnant), as well as sabotaging a partner's form of contraception. Tampering with contraception can mean anything from throwing away birth control pills to refusing to "pull out" during sex.

"Reproductive coercion is male behavior to control contraception and pregnancy outcomes of female partners," researchers wrote in a previous study published in the American Journal of of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2014. That study found that 16 percent of participants experienced a form of reproductive coercion; among those women who reported reproductive coercion, 32 percent said they experienced other forms of intimate partner violence, such as physical abuse, in the same relationship.

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Now, Dr. Jeanna Park of the University of Illinois, lead author of the latest study, says it's time clinic counselors and health care providers work on properly screening patients who may be victims of reproductive coercion. The researchers claim that all types of doctors, from pediatricians to gynecologists, need to be aware of reproductive coercion and how it affects their patients.

Park explained the ideal screening process to Reuters:

Screening can be performed in conjunction with, or independent of, intimate partner violence screening with an open ended question like, 'what challenges have you had with your current or previous contraceptive methods?’ ... Providers may suspect [reproductive coercion] when a patient has a known history of intimate partner violence, expresses a desire to obtain contraception but repeatedly loses her prescription or changes her contraceptive method frequently, presents with frequent unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections, or appears apprehensive of her partner discovering her contraceptive or pregnancy choices.

“Ultimately, (reproductive coercion) is about power and control," Park added. She and her fellow researchers also emphasized in the study that more research needs to be done on how reproductive coercion affects men and people in same-sex or queer relationships.