It’s estimated that almost 1 in 10 American women are affected by reproductive coercion, a form of abuse in which her partner tries to control her through her reproductive health. This includes not letting her use birth control, forcing her to get pregnant against her will and/or not letting her make decisions about her own pregnancy.
Birth control sabotage is a form of reproductive coercion in which a partner tries to control his significant other’s use of birth control and try to force a pregnancy. It’s done as a form of power and control. And while reproductive coercion is a type of domestic abuse, it’s not one many people know about.
To bring more light to the issue, I spoke with expert Elizabeth Miller, MD, Ph.D., Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
ACT: What are birth control sabotage and reproductive coercion? How common are they?
DR. MILLER: Reproductive coercion includes a range of controlling and abusive behaviors that includes pressuring a woman to get pregnant against her wishes, preventing her from using birth control, and controlling the outcomes of a pregnancy. While these behaviors often are associated with other forms of abuse in the relationship, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, we have also found that some women report experiencing reproductive coercion, and have not experienced physical or sexual abuse by that partner.
This means that for some women, they may not immediately recognize that his removing condoms during sex, telling her not to use birth control or saying things like “We’re going to have beautiful babies together,” may, in fact, be a way for him to keep her in his life forever.
Because we so often hear people talk about how girls ‘trapped’ a guy by getting pregnant, it is surprising to hear that this can work the other way as well. That male partners may sometimes coerce their partners to get pregnant, including refusing to use condoms, removing condoms during sex, preventing her from using birth control, and actively removing her patch or vaginal ring, or throwing away birth control pills. The entire range of behaviors is called “reproductive coercion.” “Birth control sabotage” is specifically the active interference with contraception.
ACT: How common is it?
DR. MILLER: We estimate about 9% of women in the country are affected by reproductive coercion. In our studies, about a quarter of women report ever experience this. We also find that this is more common among the adolescents and younger women in our studies.
[Editor’s Note: these particular studies she mentions were done with women seeking care in family planning/women’s health clinics. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has also said that 1 in 4 of its callers have experienced reproductive coercion.]
ACT: How does fit in with other types of abuse?
DR. MILLER: Reproductive coercion is another way in which male partners can attempt to have power and control in their relationship. By getting her pregnant, he may think he can keep her in his life and make sure she doesn’t go somewhere else, for example.
ACT: What are some stereotypes about birth control sabotage that need to be kicked to the curb?
DR. MILLER: Historically, we’ve heard about girls who ‘trick’ their boyfriends about being on birth control and get pregnant on purpose. While there is no doubt that such behaviors occur, we are trying to highlight that this phenomenon of birth control sabotage does occur and results in unplanned, unwanted pregnancies (which are bad for women’s health; we want pregnancies to be wanted, planned and timed).
ACT: What are the warning signs of this going on? If you suspect your partner might be doing it, where can you get help?
DR. MILLER: Your partner [might say] things like “Hey, you’re going to have my baby,” even if you don’t want to be pregnant; your partner [may get] angry at you when he finds out you’re using birth control.
[Editor’s Note: You can also live chat with a trained professional to get help. It’s private, save and secure.]
ACT: How can you help a friend who might be going through this?
DR. MILLER: If you have a friend who is experiencing this, please help her to understand that this is not her fault. You could say something like, “I was just reading about how some guys try to control their female partners by purposefully getting them pregnant. That feels so wrong and abusive to me.” Please also offer to your friend some information that could provide more counseling and support for her.
Assure her that she is not alone, tell her that you care about her and that she deserves to be treated with respect and that no one has a right to control her body. Offer her the website information above.
ACT: How can people spread awareness and work against reproductive coercion and birth control sabotage?
DR. MILLER: Talk to your friends; help us to train healthcare providers to recognize this; integrate discussion of healthy relationships into teen pregnancy prevention programs so that we can raise awareness about this.
We also need to talk to the good men in our lives and to start to change the way in which men think about their female partners — not as objects to be controlled and possessed.
Are you experiencing reproductive coercion or know someone who is? Get help with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Learn more about the signs of reproductive coercion with Know More Say More.