Reproductive coercion

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Reproductive coercion

Reproductive coercion mostly remains a hidden issue which is seriously under reported. Queensland organisation Children By Choice reported they’re seeing it in around one in seven women presenting for abortions.

Intimate partner violence, sexual violence and reproductive coercion are all related. Studies consistently show a relationship between intimate partner violence, and unintended pregnancy. In their article ‘How forced pregnancies and abortions deny women control over their own bodies’, Laura Tarzia and Molly Wellington write: ‘But whether this is through the male partner intentionally trying to get his partner pregnant, or simply a side effect of the woman having little control over the timing and frequency of sex, is unclear. Many women in violent relationships are unable to negotiate the use of contraception, particularly if relying on methods such as condoms that depend on the male partner. Others are too fearful to refuse sex, even if they know they’re risking a pregnancy. Some women are raped by their partners.’

More research is urgently needed in this area so we can understand women’s experiences and how best to support them. Research tells us women experiencing reproductive coercion are more likely to access health care services. In particular, abortion clinics, general practitioners, and antenatal services. Tarzia and Wellington are concerned that ‘little is known about how practitioners working in these settings identify it in their patients, or how they respond if women disclose. They would like to see the development of best practice guidelines about how health practitioners should identify and respond to reproductive coercion.’

Furthermore, the authors argue: ‘It’s clear more community awareness is needed about reproductive coercion. Health practitioners can help women experiencing reproductive coercion by prescribing female-controlled or hidden methods of contraception (such as an implantable intrauterine device with a shorter string that is undetectable by a partner). They can also provide women with information about their reproductive rights, alert them to the abuse happening in their relationship, and provide referrals if appropriate. Safe, low-cost and reliable access to abortion and other reproductive health services are also critical.’

Like many forms of violence against women, argue Tarzia and Wellington, ‘the real road to prevention is broader social change towards gender equality. Specifically, a shift away from a culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies and towards real recognition of women’s reproductive rights.’

Call for Participation

A draft White Paper has been developed by Marie Stopes Australia (a national provider of sexual and reproductive health) with a view to addressing the issue of reproductive coercion. It is part of an ongoing national consultation process on the issue of reproductive coercion that aims to commence a community-wide conversation including what reproductive coercion means and what it entails; and how best to prevent and respond to it.

Results from this second round of consultations will be collated into a final national White Paper that will be released in late October 2018. The final White Paper will detail final commitments that Marie Stopes Australia will undertake, as well detail final recommendations to address reproductive coercion from a research, policy and practice perspective.

The second stage of consultation will conclude on 17 August 2018. To download the draft Reproductive Coercion White Paper and for more information on how to participate follow the link