Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reproductive Coercion: Pregnancy as a form of Violence against Women

I've been interested in reproductive coercion for several years. My interest began when I assisted as a researcher on a project about teen parenting. There was quite a bit of discussion around one teen telling his/her partner that they needed to have a baby for a, b, or c reason. One teen would tell the other that protection was being used, when in reality there was none being used. Reproductive coercion has been discussed in America in 2 primary ways and is most certainly NOT only related to teenagers.

The first way you might hear about reproductive coercion is pregnancy as a means of boosting the U.S. economy. The argument is that when women birth many children, the U.S. benefits economically, demographically, and in numerous other ways. This argument makes some sense--think about the Baby Boom era--but what is forgotten is this idea that women, and the babies they have, become a strategy.  The value of human life and the value of a woman as a human being gets lost.  Recently I read an article on this very topic. It was published in the Boulder Weekly and was written by the keynote speaker from SlutWalk Denver, Pamela White. The article is entitled, Women are Not Farms.  I love this! I think this is a perfect title. This idea that women can birth numerous children to boost various facets of our society is simply dehumanizing the individuals, the notion of family (in all forms), and is known as reproductive coercion.

Now, as mentioned above, there is a second way you may hear words reproductive coercion. This is the way I used it in my opening and also the way that I am most familiar in hearing it used. Reproductive coercion may also be a tool against a woman--there has been some research in the realm of teen dating violence regarding this topic.  Essentially, this is the notion that in opposite-sex relationships, men actively attempt to get their female partners pregnant. Male partners might take condoms off during sexual intercourse, might break condoms on purpose, or might flush birth control pills down the toilet if found.  So, here's the situation: female doesn't want to get pregnant. Attempts to be responsible by getting birth control pills. Male partner won't let her take the pills. Guilt trips, words of affection, and talk of future lives may also be common and convincing for these women. "Honey, we're going to have beautiful babies." "If you loved me, you'd have a baby with me." On the opposite side, pregnancy coercion is involved as well. Men might state that they'll leave the woman if she doesn't have a child with him. He might say he'll hit her if she uses birth control.  

Don't be fooled, numbers are much too high for experiencing reproductive coercion. This is not an uncommon experience for women.  If you'd like to hear about this in greater detail, check out this podcast by Dr. Elizabeth Miller (author of Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy). 

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