It Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, And That Is Relevant To Abortion Rights

6 Oct

Trigger warning: domestic violence.

One of my beloved coworkers at my job this summer became like a younger sister to me. She’s bold, brash, and funny, and she moved to the Big City to Make It On Her Own. I’m not laughing at that – it’s brave, and I did it myself only a few years ago, so I know what it means, and what it is like to be in that place.

She was also being stalked by her ex-boyfriend.

When she first got to the city, alone and scared and exhilarated, she met a model, a little older than her. The first few weeks of the relationship were fun, but within a month he was asking her to move in, berating her in public, and yelling at her at parties. Within six weeks, the police had been involved in two of their disputes. She left him and refused to see him or speak to him. That was when he started showing up, waiting outside her door until she got home from a bar at 4am, waiting at her subway stop, and finally coming to work to harass her, where we had him evicted by a very large man who maybe was not so gentle when he tossed him out the front door. The language he used to text her and contact her was obscene and threatening, and it made me sick just to read it as a third party.

What if she had been pregnant?

Scientific studies show a correlation between abortion and domestic abuse. I am a sociologist. Correlation does not necessarily indicate causation, nor does correlation, such as the correlation between abortion and domestic abuse, explain to us how those two things are related. So here is what we do know: Women are four times as likely to suffer an increase in abuse due to an unintended or unwanted pregnancy. The pregnancy itself may be the result of abuse, which can manifest – and, let me be clear, does manifest – as “sexual abuse, marital rape, or denial of access to birth control.” Those three things can and do also happen in conjunction.

The 14% of women seeking abortions who admit to experiencing or having experienced abuse have made that decision through their experiences as a person, through their experience living their race, their gender, their sexuality and sexual orientation, and, certainly, through their experience/s with partner violence. Supporting a person’s right to an abortion is supporting their need to make that decision in a way that is informed by both their present circumstances and their past experiences.

A common explanation for the correlation between abortion and violence on “prolife” sites is that abortion causes abuse. This is inaccurate. It is damaging and it is far, far worse than being simply misleading. It is a way of twisting reality and victim-blaming that has the net result of blaming victims of abuse while simultaneously encouraging them to remain in unsafe circumstances that get less safe when they become pregnant.

There is one more, extremely serious reason that women seek out abortions when they are impregnated by an abusive partner. One of the leading causes of death amongst pregnant women is homicide by an abusive partner. Yes, you are reading that correctly: one of the most likely ways for a woman to die while pregnant is by being murdered by her partner, her husband, her boyfriend, her lover, her fiancee.

Every day, I hope, but this month particularly, we raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse and ask everyone to reach out to their loved ones and help keep them safe. If you have a friend who is in an abusive situation who then becomes pregnant, I urge you to help them immediately, and help them make decisions before they share the news of their pregnancy with an abusive partner. That decision may be to have an abortion; many people make that decision. But the decision could also be to carry the pregnancy to term and have a child, making it more vital than ever – not because a child’s life is worth more than theirs, but because now two lives will hang in the balance of the abuse, and because the abuse can increase significantly at the announcement of a pregnancy – that they find a way to be safe. A Safe Passage is an excellent place to start finding resources that are specifically for victims of abuse – at any point in their lives – who are pregnant, or are planning to get pregnant.

My job this summer was in an extremely open, sexually liberal environment, in a blue-state east coast city. But when my friend was stalked by her abuser, some of the people I worked with still wondered, out loud, “why she didn’t just tell him to go away,” because, “a man won’t bother a woman if he knows she really means it.” She should have been clearer, she should have told him louder, she shouldn’t have let it go on for so long.

Those basic assumptions about abuse are EXACTLY why people are shamed and stigmatized for so long, and they are EXACTLY the reason my friend was embarrassed when she had to tell our coworkers about her circumstances. Those basic assumptions are the problem. Those basic assumptions create warm, cozy environments for abuse to continue. Abuse will only stop when the silence is broken and no one is ashamed to say, “S/he hurt me.”

If you or someone you know is dealing with abuse – mental, psychological, or physical – please get help. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. The law and every sense of decency is on your side. You are in the right. You are strong and powerful, and there are people who care about you who will support you in making the choices or decisions you need to make.

You are brave, and I admire you.


6 Responses to “It Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, And That Is Relevant To Abortion Rights”

  1. alissa October 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    “A common explanation for the correlation between abortion and violence on “prolife” sites is that abortion causes abuse. This is inaccurate. It is damaging and it is far, far worse than being simply misleading. It is a way of twisting reality and victim-blaming that has the net result of blaming victims of abuse while simultaneously encouraging them to remain in unsafe circumstances that get less safe when they become pregnant.”

    I just wanted to point out that you cannot say that this is inaccurate. For I was one of those people whose boyfriend started abusing her (to the point where I had to get a restraining order against him) because I got an abortion. This was 10 years ago, and looking back I see that he was angry with me and hurting from the fact that I had an abortion instead of having his child. Please be careful with saying that it is inaccurate…for men become abusive towards women for all kinds of (dumb) reasons. To say that a guy would never start abusing a woman for having an abortion is dangerous. If he felt she killed his child and he wanted the baby, he could easily start abusing her.

  2. Alicia October 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    @Alissa- Sure, an abortion could be the catalyst for physical abuse in a few cases, but to portray abortion as causing abuse is equally irresponsible as saying it never does.

  3. Sophia October 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Kaitlyn, this is such a powerful piece and beautifully written. Thank you for putting words to the thoughts that often plague me, for which I am never truly able to adequately put into words.

  4. alissa October 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Sorry, I guess I didn’t write that the correct way. You were talking about that some women abort (or carry to term) their babies because of abusive boyfriends who were abusive prior to finding out she was pregnant. I was just trying to point out that sometimes the boyfriends become abusive after an abortion too (or even after she decides to continue the pregnancy). In which case a female needs to be made aware that if her boyfriend/partner/husband doesn’t agree with her decision (to abort, adopt out, or keep the baby), it can sometimes create an emotional/physical abusive relationship. In which case, she needs to know of where she can find help and support. Correlation and catalyst ran together to me. Your right, the only thing that ’causes’ abuse is the jack a**, opps, sorry, I mean the abuser. 😉

  5. Kaitlyn October 8, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    @Sophia – Thank you so much.

    @Alissa – Alissa, I’m so sorry that was your experience. In my piece, I think I make it extremely clear that becoming pregnant greatly increases the chances that a woman will be abused. This is not because *pregnancy* causes abuse, but because it creates a environment outside of the abuser’s control that lead to further instability. I believe, and from your last comment you seem to agree, that what is irresponsible is implying or outright saying that women have *caused* abuse by *having* an abortion. This is never the case. Nothing and no one causes abuse except the abuser.


  1. The Current “State” of Reproductive Rights | Abortion Gang - March 20, 2012

    […] Tennessee: I try to maintain a sense of humor about the “state” of things, when I can; it keeps the drinking to a minimum. But there is nothing funny about the law being proposed in Tennessee right now. Nothing. The law would require the state to put detailed information about every abortion performed in the state online. The name of the doctor who performed the abortion, and where they performed it, as well as detailed information about the patient, certainly detailed enough that it might make identifying the patient possible in rural Tennessee. This is incitement. This is absolutely an invitation for an angry and abusive spouse to figure out that a woman had an abortion and hurt or kill her or the doctor. I am absolutely not exaggerating. I would be shocked if that were never the outcome of this bill, if it passes. To understand why that might be, reference my post on domestic violence and abortion and pregnancy here. […]

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