Anti-choice movement is like reproductive coercion, but on a broader scale

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Anti-choice rhetoric continuously includes a healthy amount of victim blaming and messaging that is misogynistic. One of the phrases that we often hear is, “birth control is available so people shouldn’t have unplanned pregnancies.” Another is, “well you shouldn’t have sex if you don’t want to get pregnant or aren’t prepared for pregnancy.” Both of these statements are fraught with condescension for people experiencing unplanned pregnancies and a lack of understanding of the reality of the reproductive experiences of most people.

Birth control is not widely available in many parts of the United States. There are also states stripping funding from family planning clinics or denying them the ability to accept Medicaid; it ignores the reality of reproductive coercion.

{mosads}A recent review of nine studies found that up to 30 percent of women in the United States experience reproductive coercion. Women around the world are also at serious risk of reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is the control of a person’s reproductive choices by another person, most often an intimate partner.

The most widely known type of reproductive coercion is a partner forcing or preventing someone from getting an abortion, but it can be much subtler and varied. Some partners may try to force a woman to get pregnant or not use a certain type of birth control. This type of behavior can include: hiding or stealing birth control pills, preventing women from obtaining hormonal contraceptives, sabotaging condoms or even removing condoms during sex.

The researchers found sometimes that women didn’t consider their experiences to be coercive, despite having experienced control by a partner over their reproductive choices. Sometimes the pressure to make certain reproductive choices is even as subtle as a partner threatening to withhold financial support or force the person to leave their dwelling if they choose to end or continue a pregnancy against the partner’s wishes.

Reproductive coercion is a type of abuse and often a noteworthy feature of abusive relationships. Getting the woman pregnant or forcing her to continue a pregnancy can give the abuser a further tie to her and make it more difficult for a woman to leave an abusive partner. Research has shown that violence is one of the leading causes of death during pregnancy.

Reproductive coercion is about an attempt to control a very central part of a person’s bodily autonomy and concept of self. Reproductive autonomy should be considered a basic form of freedom. If you are not able to choose when or if you want to get pregnant or continue a pregnancy, then you are unable to control the access to education or employment. You may be forced to rely on abusive partners for financial support and housing. Ultimately, your chosen future is being shaped by someone else’s choices.

The anti-choice movement seeks to facilitate reproductive coercion on a broad and massive scale. Laws that make it more difficult to access birth control and abortion services constrain women’s reproductive choices. Now, the Trump administration has made it more difficult for clinics that offer abortion services to become Title X providers, further worsening birth control access.

There are 21 states — including the District of Columbia, suing over the Title X regulations. Ultimately, the anti-choice movement believes that women are not rational actors, capable and worthy of making their own decisions about how to use their bodies. Their talking points emphasizes the need for waiting periods and bans on abortion at certain gestations or in certain circumstances illustrate their fundamental belief that women are easily swayed from their choices or will choose badly if given the chance.

We recognize the reality of women’s experiences. As a reproductive health care provider, we hear from women everyday about the reproductive coercion they have experienced. We work to assist women in fulfilling their reproductive goals and choices.

Sometimes this is helping women continue a pregnancy or it is helping women end a pregnancy. Other times it is helping women come up with strategies to keep a partner from sabotaging their contraceptive.

As a society, we have to strive to make sure that all people have access to reproductive freedom. We have to counter narratives and prevailing notions that people are not worthy decision-makers when it comes to their reproduction rights. We have to fight to create the structures that allow people to access the services such as birth control and abortion that allow them to create the lives they want for themselves and their families.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.


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