Birth control sabotage has been revealed to be a common form of partner abuse. In a report released earlier this week by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 25 percent of women callers to the hot line, who voluntarily answered questions about birth control and pressure to get pregnant in their relationships, reported some form of reproductive coercion.
The callers said their partners hid birth control pills or flushed them down the toilet. Some refused to wear condoms or poked holes in them. One woman’s partner became furious when she recently got her period.
The study’s authors state firmly that reproductive coercion is a form of abuse. Family Violence Prevention Fund president Esta Soler says, “While there is a cultural assumption that some women use pregnancy as a way to trap their partner in a relationship, this survey shows that men who are abusive will sabotage their partner’s birth control and pressure them to become pregnant as a way to trap or control their partner.”
And physical and emotional abuse go hand-in-hand with birth control sabotage: Another study on reproductive coercion found that one-third of women using reproductive health clinics (of five studied), whose partners were physically abusive, also said their partners had pressured or forced them into pregnancy, often hiding or destroying contraception.
This tactic should alarm feminists and anti-domestic-violence workers. It also suggests a revealing political analogy.
It seems these ostensibly “pro-family” men, who are busily destroying contraception in pursuit of children, have a lot in common with the “pro-family” (read: anti-reproductive rights) political agenda.
So why aren’t we willing to call the anti-choice agenda abusive, too?
The conservative political agenda is anti-women working outside the home, anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and once upon a time, anti-battered women’s shelters (the better to keep women inside the home and attached to intact nuclear families). Each of these stances, in some way, disempowers women.
It’s easy to see how restricting shelters keeps women under the thumb of abusive men: It’s a no brainer. If there’s no safe place to go, you’re trapped.
The same holds for denying women access to birth control or abortion. If you’re pregnant with this man’s child, you’re attached–you’re trapped, again, by an unwanted pregnancy.
And women who don’t work outside the home tend to have less say within it. Not to mention that a lack of income makes it hard to leave an abusive partner.
The “pro-family” political agenda may claim to uphold “traditional” American values, but for for many young men claiming to want “normal” nuclear families, pregnancy coercion is a form of abuse and control. What kind of “family values” are those?
This post originally appeared in the Ms. Magazine Blog, February 18, 2011