Partner Abuse and Unintended Pregnancy in Young Women

By Rachel Walden — January 28, 2010

A forthcoming article in the journal Contraception, “Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy,” looks at whether adolescent and young women have experienced birth control sabotage, pregnancy coercion, and/or physical or sexual violence.

Researchers from UC Davis conducted a survey of 1,278 16-29 year old women seeking care in five California family planning clinics in 2008-2009. The participating women were Hispanic (30%), Black (28%), White (22%), Multiracial (7%) and “Asian/other” (13%). Pregnancy coercion was defined as being told not to use birth control by a partner, threatened with physical harm if they did not agree to get pregnant, being forced or pressured to become pregnant, having hidden birth control because of fear that the partner would become upset, or being told that the partner would have a baby with someone else or leave if they did not become pregnant.

Birth control sabotage was defined as having a partner take off a condom while having sex, put holes in a condom on purpose, take away birth control, or forced sex without a condom.

Participants were also asked about their lifetime histories of physical and sexual violence and history of unintended pregnancy.

The key findings:

  • 53.4% reported having experienced partner violence
  • 40.9% had experienced at least one unintended pregnancy
  • 19.1% had experienced pregnancy coercion
  • 15.0% had experienced birth control sabotage

The authors also reported that women who had experienced partner violence in the past were also more likely to have experienced pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage (35% of those reporting violence compared to 15% of those not reporting violence). Women who had experienced reproductive control (coercion or sabotage) were also more likely to have experienced an unplanned pregnancy. When looking at the data by exposure to partner violence, reproductive control was associated with unintended pregnancy only among those who were exposed to partner violence.

Although the authors looked at lifetime exposures and so could not look at associations within specific relationships or the order of these events in time, one co-author of the study suggested that the associations may “explain why unintended pregnancies are far more common among abused women and teens.”

The researchers conclude that:

Comprehensive screening in clinical settings for the prevalent experiences of pregnancy coercion, birth control sabotage and partner violence should be considered a priority, particularly in the context of family planning and related programmatic efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy. Such screening may facilitate the critical work of addressing barriers to contraception among affected women and girls so as to reduce their elevated risk for unintended pregnancy.

The lead author of the study was also one of the researchers for a smaller study of intimate partner violence and birth control sabotage that we reported on in 2007.

[Note: Although I was able to get a copy of the article, it is not yet readily available online. I’ll try to add a link if an abstract/full text becomes available.]

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