“Get her with child frequently. That will keep her in her place.” (Marital advice attributed to Cardinal de Richlieu)
This choice bit of advice was purportedly given to kings and nobles before their marriages by the infamous cardinal. His words are still being followed in the 21st century where some feel that a woman has no rights over her own body. Are you listening Rush Limbaugh? You and others like you who feel that a woman has no right to have control over her own body?
Advocates for the prevention of domestic violence were alarmed and incensed earlier this year when Congress threatened to stop funding Title X, which hosts family-planning services, including Planned Parenthood. While the main focus point concerned a woman’s right to abortion, advocates for Planned Parenthood were all too well aware that de-funding these clinics would endanger victims of domestic violence, women who turn to them not only for pregnancy prevention, but for counseling as well. Research shows that helping an abused woman prevent an unwanted pregnancy greatly increases the odds that she'll be more willing and able to leave her abusive partner at a future time.
"Abused women will go to their health providers long before they'll call a domestic violence hotline," says Dr. Elizabeth Miller, who has studied reproductive coercion in depth. "That contact may be our only chance to help them understand what a healthy relationship should look like."
We tend to think of domestic abuse in the form of physical attacks but in recent years a new term has been coined by therapists. Labeled Reproductive Coercion, it is one of the least reported forms of abuse simply because many women are unaware that it is abuse, let alone that it is considered intimate partner violence. These women are in an abusive relationship where the men control them by making, and keeping, them pregnant. It is absolute control and domination over a woman’s life, finances, and chances for escape. She loses everything including control over her own body.
This form of abuse ranges from forced sexual intercourse without the use of a condom, the throwing away or hiding of birth control pills, and puncturing condoms, to the actual painful act of the removal of IUDs . Coercion can also take the form of threats to find a new partner who is willing to become pregnant, or telling a partner that if she was truly in love she would want to have a baby. Constant emotional battering, (“the pill is making you fat; there’s something mentally wrong with a woman who doesn’t want a baby; birth control is a sin and you disgust me, etc.") is another weapon that is used.
This form of domination has been practiced for years by radical religious groups worldwide. Like it or not, Michelle Duggar, mother of 19, is a prime example of a woman controlled by a religious belief that espouses a woman must “make children for God’s army.” The polygamous FLDS also “controls” women through this means. It is brainwashing at its finest. Keeping a woman constantly pregnant gives the man ultimate say over her life and denies her any type of real independence.
But while forcible reproduction may be more common in certain radical religions, it happens everywhere. What’s so surprising about this form of abuse is that in 2012 many women are still being controlled in this manner by their husbands or boyfriends and are ashamed to admit it.
Reproductive coercion, experts say, is another way for an abuser to exert his power over his partner. By coercing a woman to have his baby, he is not only forcing her to stay with him but is binding her indefinitely to him by having a child in common with her.
Not surprisingly, women who have forced and frequent pregnancies also have increased health risks as well as increased partner violence during those pregnancies. Multiple studies show that the rates of intimate partner violence among women seeking family planning and gynecological care are almost twice that of the rest of the population.
This type of abuse has also hit an area where young girls are vulnerable. The Guttmacher Institute reports a 3% increase in the pregnancy rate among girls ages 15 to 19. Reproductive coercion by their boyfriends is seen as a definite factor in this increase.
Understanding what constitutes true intimate violence is a first step in helping women help themselves. Coercing a woman to become pregnant is an act of violence and abuse. Making sure that Title X continues to be funded will make the programs within it available for the women who are most desperately in need of help.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says: "Women trapped in abusive relationships can rely on the Title X programs for life-saving, affordable care. It's critical that these safety nets are available for the women who are most at risk."
Women and men, need to support Title X for the simple and humane reason that it will save countless women pain and suffering. The right to have control over your own body is a basic human right for all of us.
© 2012 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved
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Enjoy Houghton's latest e-book: No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut
And don't miss out on Houghton's best-selling book: And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First available in both paperbook and e-book.
Her new book, Nourishing Thoughts: The Little Book of Sayings for a Healthy, Happy Life will be launched on May 1, 2012