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Abuse, Reproductive Coercion and Abortion Equal Depression

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There is a natural tendency to think of abuse as physical or verbal violence against another person, either a child, wife or husband. Generally, most people think in terms of violence against women. Yet, there is another type of abuse that might be considered violence even though it is somewhat different. Specifically, I am referring to “reproductive coercion.” Reproductive coercion comes in many forms. Sometimes a man will poke holes in a condom unbeknownst to his lover, resulting in pregnancy. Sometimes the lover will use violence or the threat of violence to force his partner into pregnancy. There have even been cases in which the man pulls the IUD out of the woman’s vagina before having unprotected sex. By the way, this is certainly a violent and dangerous thing to do. Sometimes, reproductive coercion involves pressuring a lover into having a baby they do not wish to have. In fact, in all of these cases, the lover is very specific in not wanting a child. One of the motivations for doing this is to keep a relationship going by having a baby. In other words, it’s a kind of entrapment whereby the presence of a baby allows a lover to keep control over his partner. This can and does result in multiple pregnancies. The fact is that, by sabotaging birth control, not only is pregnancy being forced upon a woman, but she is exposed to the possibility of sexually transmitted disease. In effect, reproductive coercion is an example of violence against women.

The issue of abuse and reproductive coercion brings up the question of abortion. On both sides of the debate over abortion, there are well-meaning people who are dedicated to their point of view. For those who are pro life, abortion is murder because a human life is terminated. From their perspective, pro life protects a human life and prevents a murder. Whether someone agrees or not, many of those who are pro life are propelled by their religious faith and are deeply committed to religious ethics and values. On the other side are those who are pro abortion because they are convinced that women have the right to control their own bodies. From their point of view, a coercive pregnancy is a violent form of abuse and exploits the female sex. They see themselves as protecting the rights of the individual to make their own choice, as dictated by the circumstances of their lives at the time. These circumstances include the health and well being of the woman, especially if giving birth can harm her health and life. They argue that the time has past when men can dictate what is right or wrong for women.

On a very real level, it is possible to view this debate from the point of view of human rights and whether or not they are being violated. Therefore, if a fervent and energetic group of pro life advocates demonstrate in front of a clinic or hospital for the expressed purpose of discouraging abortions, are they committing an act of violence against women? In other words, is demonstrating in front of clinics where abortions are performed nothing more than reproductive coercion? In these cases, women are being told to keep pregnancies that they may never have wanted and may have been coerced into.

The reader might conclude that these are issues that belong in the hands of the court or religious institutions. However, the way these questions are answered directly impacts the psychological health of women and, if they give birth, their children as well. How does it feel to be told to give birth to a baby that was never supposed to happen? What is it like to be pushed by others to have a child, regardless of your opinions, preferences or needs? Is this truly a matter of women controlling their own bodies or does pregnancy fall under a different moral and ethical category because the birth of babies is as much a social issue as one that is unique to the individual?

The fact is that everyone wants and needs to feel that they have a sense of control over their lives. To the extent that others may be dictating outcomes regardless of personal preferences iss very depressing. Depression must be as much a part of this discussion as everything else. It is well established that depressed mothers affect the emotional development of their children.

Is abortion a crime or a right? Is anti abortion a form of abuse or a protection of life?

This article is written to raise questions rather than provide answers. What are your opinions about these issues?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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