By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
Though further studies are needed to confirm the results, a recent article published by Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association found that partner abuse and violence significantly affected women’s reproductive health. While there are a variety of ways in which abuse impacts reproductive health and decision-making, the manipulation of contraceptive methods and forced sex are among the leading, according to the article “Impact of Partner Abuse on Women’s Reproductive Lives.”
The study, based on quantitative interviews with women participating in a hospital-based domestic abuse program, is one of the first of its kind to examine the relationship between physical abuse and reproductive consequences. Perhaps the most distinguishing influence of partner abuse is the control over reproductive choices it establishes.
According to the study authors, “Our findings are consistent with research showing that abusive men may attempt to pressure or force their female partners into having children by refusing to use condoms or forcing them to have sex.”
However, such behaviors as forced abortions, prohibition of birth control for women and the instances of women seeking sterilization to avoid forced pregnancies are newly-quantified ramifications of partner abuse. In addition, abusive men contributed to the decision of two participants in the study to undergo tubal ligations, either because of coercion or to avoid undesired pregnancy. A third participant was also prevented by her abusive partner from having a tubal ligation when she wanted one.
That abused women face a host of medical and emotional troubles is undisputed. According to an article published in OutLook, “Violence Against Women: Effects on Reproductive Health”, women experiencing domestic violence are “three times more likely to have gynecologic problems than non-abused women … Sexual abuse, especially forced sex, can cause physical and mental trauma. In addition to damage to the urethra, vagina and anus, abuse can result in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS.”
Another significant way in which partner abuse limits women’s choices is that for many, their fear of bringing children into an abusive relationship prevented them from wanting to have children. As quoted in the JAMWA article, one participant reported that “Because he’s so disturbed, I wouldn’t want to have kids with him. I can’t knowingly, willingly, do that knowing what kind of parent he’d be.”
The concern these women have for their unborn babies is well-founded; “Intimate partner abuse during pregnancy may be a more significant risk factor than any other condition for which pregnant women are routinely screened, such as hypertension and diabetes,” found the authors of the OutLook article.
The study also raises two compelling points in the ongoing dialogue about violence and reproductive health: Prevention and support. Health care practitioners are urged to routinely screen women for partner abuse and recommend the appropriate support systems. When disclosure of abuse occurs, health care professionals should also assist women in making their own reproductive choices so as to regain at least part of the autonomy lost as a result of their abuse.
JAMWA study authors cautioned that since the participants represented only a small percentage of abused women, their experiences cannot be attributed to all women experiencing reproductive health problems as a result of partner violence.