Paper to Practice: Reproductive Coercion Transcripts

Dr. Pooley: Welcome to paper to practice MiVAN’s advocacy research corner. In these two short videos, we’ll be exploring research related to crime victim advocacy and reproductive coercion.
Reproductive coercion is a form of intimate partner violence in which someone attempts to control aspects of their partner’s pregnancy or reproductive outcomes. There are three forms of reproductive coercion: pregnancy coercion, birth control sabotage, and controlling the outcome of a pregnancy.

Still in its academic infancy, the term was coined by Elizabeth Miller and colleagues in 2010 surveying women at family planning clinics in Northern California.

It’s important to remember Reproductive coercion can impact anyone who can get pregnant, regardless of their gender identity. Not all people who can get pregnant identify as women. As such, we have used gender neutral language here except where research explicitly studied only women.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective was the first organization founded to build a reproductive justice movement in the US.

Reproductive justice is “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,”

Reproductive justice is built around the principle that everyone should be free to make decisions about their body and their family, and experience sexuality without violence, coercion, or external control.
Approximately 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, which is defined as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner.”

Reproductive coercion is an aspect of intimate partner violence that has historically received less attention than other forms of IPV but nonetheless is common and has serious consequences on survivors’ health and well-being…, including being put at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy and abortion. Reproductive coercion is considered a serious public health issue.

Reproductive coercion can happen through attempts to impregnate a partner against their wishes by verbally threatening or coercively persuading them to become pregnant, sabotaging their attempts at using birth control, or coercing them to have unprotected sex. Another aspect of reproductive coercion includes attempts to control the outcomes of a pregnancy, such as the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy.

Although many people talk about reproductive health as a “women’s issue,” many LGBTQ people—including lesbian and bisexual women, transgender men, two-spirit, intersex, nonbinary and gender non-conforming individuals—can get pregnant, use birth control, have abortions, carry pregnancies, and become parents. Reproductive coercion is often reported by people experiencing other types of intimate partner violence. More than 1-in-3 women reporting physical, sexual, or psychological partner violence also report experiencing reproductive coercion. More than half of all transgender and gender diverse individuals have faced intimate partner violence, although specific rates of reproductive coercion are not yet known. Reproductive coercion is particularly targeted against marginalized people, including those who do not primarily speak English.

Many survivors seeking services from victim service programs have likely also experienced reproductive coercion, and the staff at domestic violence agencies in particular represent an important point of intervention around this issue. Research indicates that victim services are not always accessible or welcoming to transgender survivors, and it is critically important for victim advocates and agencies to be LGBTQ inclusive and provide services to all survivors experiencing reproductive coercion.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about how and why reproductive coercion relates to doing crime victim advocacy. In the next video, Dr. Sara McGirr, a Research Scientist at the Michigan Public Health Institute, joins us to discuss this topic.

Dr. McGirr: Like other forms of intimate partner violence, reproductive coercion is a tactic used to maintain power and control in a relationship.

Dr. Pooley: We’re talking with Sara McGirr about her recent research study that surveyed more than 700 domestic violence advocates from across the United States about how they respond to reproductive coercion in their work. This study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2020, and we’re excited to hear more about the findings and what they mean for advocates and their agencies.

Dr. McGirr: The intersection of IPV and reproductive and sexual health is a relatively new topic for many advocates working in victim service programs because studies and trainings in the US have begun only recently and have not yet reached much of the field. So advocates are really open to engaging with survivors on topics related to reproductive coercion but just might need some more training and support to do so.

In our survey, we found that advocates indicated that they needed more training and more support from their supervisors to feel more comfortable talking about reproductive coercion topics.

Leaders in the field recommend that advocates incorporate universal education about RC into the intake process with new clients or discuss this topic early on in service provision conversations with every client.

It’s important because some clients may not know about reproductive coercion and may not even have the language to express that they’re experiencing it, but if an advocate describes some of the behaviors that perpetrators of reproductive coercion use, a survivor might realize that they have in fact experienced that and can then begin to receive support specifically for this.

Experts recommend that advocates incorporate targeted responses such as offering emergency contraception or pregnancy tests onsite, providing supported referrals to community reproductive health resources, as well as aiding survivors in developing safety plans that incorporate strategies to support their reproductive health choices.

If you’re interested in learning more definitely check out the Futures Without Violence website. They have a lot of resources there and they’re great at supporting victim advocates to do this work. They also have resources that you can share with your partners in healthcare who might also be new to reproductive coercion. Another organization that is doing great work in this area is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the national organization for OBGYNs. They have excellent resources on their website that you can share with healthcare partners as well.