According to a new study in the British Journal of Medicine, women who are victims of domestic violence are twice as likely as other women to use emergency contraception.
Researchers at the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London analyzed the medical records of over 200,000 women of reproductive age. “Our findings are in line with evidence from studies in other countries suggesting that women experiencing domestic violence and abuse (DVA) use more emergency contraception than other women,” said Joni Jackson, an author of the study.
Jackson said that community pharmacists and sexual health practitioners are “at the frontline responding to these requests” and have the opportunity to help women who are being abused. Fellow author of the study, Dr. Natalia Lewis, added that this “means that healthcare services are an important point of contact for DVA victims and survivors.”
Homicide is the second leading cause of death among pregnant women, behind car accidents. When men who are actively abusive (or have the potential to be abusive) learn that their partners are unexpectedly pregnant, the lives of women and their preborn children are in danger.
Women who are victims of domestic violence and fear becoming pregnant may be so afraid of their partners abusing a child that they feel that emergency contraception (which may either prevent pregnancy or, if that fails, make the uterus inhospitable to the newly-created human life) is the first way they have of preventing this. They also may desire to escape the abuse, and fear that having a baby would forever tie them to their abuser (which is not the case if they receive proper help to flee). Even if an abused woman doesn’t want an abortion, she may feel it is her only option. And despite what the media claims, emergency contraception is capable of causing an abortion.
According to Veronica Gillispie, an obstetrician and gynecologist in New Orleans, “reproductive coercion” occurs when an abusive partner gets a woman pregnant against her will through rape or by “birth control sabotage” as was reported by 25 percent of teen girls with abusive partners and 15 percent of women with abusive partners. Abusive men may use pregnancy or birth control and emergency contraception as means to exert power and control over their victims.
When a doctor or pharmacists comes into contact with a woman requesting emergency contraception, they can refer her to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. This latest study’s researchers are asking that their findings be included in the existing domestic violence awareness programs for doctors.
Editor’s Note, 12/16/18: The words “and become pregnant” in paragraph five have been changed to “and fear becoming pregnant” for clarity.