Adolescent girls and women should now be screened for reproductive coercion, a form of abuse that occurs when male partners sabotage their contraception intentionally.

This form of abuse, known as reproductive coercion, can manifest in several ways, such as deliberately giving a partner a sexually transmitted disease (STIs), forcing a partner to have an undesired abortion or pregnancy, or seizing control of a woman’s contraceptive pills.

According to new information released by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, homicide is one of the principal causes of death among pregnant women in the U.S. In addition to this life threatening violence, many abused women have significant others who are involved in reproductive coercion.

Researchers are still unaware of exactly how common such coercion is, however, it is common enough, specifically among women who have been previously abused by their partners. They suggest health care providers should screen women for signs during pregnancy visits and routine check-ups.

A strong link between violence and poor reproductive outcomes was established in this research. Experiencing violence can increased a woman’s risk for unintended pregnancies. Women who have experienced sexual or reproductive coercion are more likely to have also experienced sexual or physical violence.

Veronica Gillispie, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, and a member of the committee that wrote the opinion which is published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology said, “We want to make sure that health care providers are aware that this is something that does go on and that it’s a form of abuse.”

In the new guidelines released by The College, experts define reproductive coercion as a pattern of psychologically coercive behaviors and/or physical violence aimed to control a woman’s sexual decision-making, pregnancy, and/or contraceptive use.

Examples of this form of abuse are as follows:

  • pressuring a woman to become pregnant against her will
  • forcing her to end or continue a pregnancy against her will
  • intentionally obstructing a woman’s contraceptive method

There have been reports of male partners even forcefully removing intrauterine devices (IUDs) and vaginal rings, making holes in condoms, and destroying birth control pills.

Examples of sexual coercion are:

  • forcing sex without a condom
  • exposing a partner to an STI intentionally
  • repeated pressure to have sex

In the research cited by the committee, “birth control sabotage” was documented by 25 percent of teen girls with abusive boyfriends, and by 15 percent of women who were also abused physically.

Undesired pregnancies and HIV and STI infections could be obvious warning signs, because both are highly associated with abusive relationships. The College suggests that intervention strategies may aid women in leaving unhealthy relationships and decreasing undesired pregnancies.

Health professionals have the ability to implement a number of methods to help women who are experiencing these types of abuse.

They may recommend using long-acting IUDs, the implant, and the injection which are harder for partners to detect. An extra precaution can be taken by cutting IUD strings short to evade detection and unwanted removal. Giving these women emergency contraceptive pills is another way to safeguard them, as well as advising them to disguise the pills in a separate container.

Just yesterday, a report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women of childbearing age be screened for domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. Questioning women about abuse can help reveal unhealthy situations and promote interventions for these victims.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald