UCD study shows abusive partners sabotage birth control

In the popular Lifetime movie, “The Pregnancy Pact,” several high school girls consciously tamper with their birth control to facilitate conception. Results from a lesser known, but perhaps more realistic local study tell a different story, in which it is men who force pregnancy.

“Pregnancy Coercion, Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy” led by Elizabeth Miller, UC Davis assistant professor of pediatrics in the School of Medicine, showed that abusive males often coerce their female partners into reproduction. Reproductive coercion efforts include flushing birth control down the toilet and damaging or removing condoms.

Approximately 1,300 English and Spanish speaking women ages 16 to 29 were surveyed about their experiences with relationships and pregnancy at five northern California reproductive health clinics from August 2008 to March 2009. Women in this age range are the most likely to experience physical or sexual violence.

Fifty-three percent of respondents reported physical or sexual violence from their partners, and 35 percent of those who reported violence also experienced reproductive coercion or birth control sabotage.

“We created the term reproductive coercion to describe a male partner trying to take control of a woman’s reproductive autonomy,” Miller said.

In an interview with the Davis Enterprise, the study’s senior author Jay Silverman noted that the commonality of unintended pregnancies among abused women and teens is likely due to reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is another means for an abusive male to control his partner.

To combat this phenomenon, clinicians and teen pregnancy prevention groups can discuss how to prevent and avoid coercion with their patients.

Incorporating reproductive coercion into teen pregnancy education would be huge, Miller said.

Although none of the coordinators at the Women’s Resource and Research Center (WRRC) on campus have encountered this type of abuse, counseling psychologist C. Jezzie Fulmen said UC Davis has several resources to help abuse victims.

The WRRC currently provides counseling without an appointment, and the Campus Violence Prevention Program provides medical and legal advocacy.

Students are often surprised to find out that legally, sexual assault within or outside of relationships is treated the same, Fulmen said.

Miller’s goal in conducting research on the link between reproductive coercion, abusive relationships and unintended pregnancy was to reduce unintended pregnancies.

“We’re trying to agree with anti-abortion groups on reducing unintended pregnancies,” Miller said. “We are still struggling to get partner violence embedded in public health programs.”

The five clinics surveyed were in impoverished neighborhoods with Latinas and African Americans comprising two-thirds of the respondents.

The results are expected to be applicable to reproductive health clinics in demographically poor areas. Researchers cannot estimate if surveys at private gynecologists would produce similar results.

Miller plans to focus her next research on the use of emergency contraception on college campuses and to determine the need for emergency contraception, for instance as a consequence of unwanted sex.

“In the past we focused on blaming the woman for unintended pregnancy, this shows that maybe we need to rethink that and consider other restraints on women’s lives,” Miller said.

GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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