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.