Keep in mind that VAWA has been reauthorized twice without major objection, and each time victims have enjoyed an expansion of protections. Those expansions have included provisions for cyberstalking and dating violence, and a greater emphasis on protection for immigrants. The latest version, passed in 2005 and signed by President Bush, also added cultural and linguistic specific services that were later expanded to same-sex partnerships by the DOJ.
In recent years, lawmakers nationally and in the states have used every opportunity to strip away women’s basic rights to reproductive health care, sometimes under the false guise of ending gender discrimination. These efforts, such as PRENDA, the so called Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, respond to gender bias by imposing more barriers for women seeking reproductive health care, further isolating women rather than addressing the underlying factors that lead to sex selection. In state after state, lawmakers are focused on imposing barriers to women’s reproductive health care and enacting stigmatizing legislation that further isolates women from the support they are seeking.
When a woman is in an abusive relationship, the effect is much broader than just the physical and emotional damage inflicted on her and her family. It creates real public health challenges.
Recent studies have confirmed an association between intimate partner violence and coercion related to reproductive health. Planned Parenthood health centers proactively screen and refer for intimate partner violence in a clinical setting, and we work in the community on sex education that includes important conversations about healthy relationships. If women have experienced both reproductive coercion and partner violence, their likelihood of experiencing an unintended pregnancy is doubled.
Access to high quality, confidential reproductive health care is essential for women struggling to stay safe. Last year, a young woman in Texas wrote us about how she had been trapped in an abusive relationship, beaten down and depressed. It was only when she experienced the fear of a possible unintended pregnancy that could tie her to her abuser forever that she sought help, at first simply by obtaining emergency contraception from a Planned Parenthood health center. It was in that health visit appointment that she began her first steps towards opening up about the abusive relationship and rebuilding her life.
Planned Parenthood health center staff are committed to their roles as confidential and trusted health services providers. Planned Parenthood will continue to be there for women whenever they need us. But all of us need to actively challenge the root causes of gender bias and make sure women have the ability to make healthy decisions in all facets of their lives. We urge the House to pass the Senate’s version of VAWA swiftly, and for both chambers to appropriate the funding required to help millions of women live a life free from violence and coercion.
Cooney is director for global advocacy, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.