The Impact of SCOTUS’ Dobbs Ruling on Survivors of Domestic Violence
June 29, 2023
A statement from Melina Milazzo, Public Policy Deputy Director, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV):
As we mark one year since the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to end the 50-year federal constitutional right to an abortion, we have seen more than a dozen states criminalize abortion—banning it entirely or placing severe restrictions to access. Since this unprecedented ruling, there has been widespread confusion and harrowing stories of lives almost lost, women forced to carry a dead or dying fetus, and doctors and patients threatened with legal action for helping those seeking an abortion. Tens of millions of people have been impacted by the decision of five Supreme Court justices to take away a fundamental human right to reproductive and bodily autonomy. Among these numbers are survivors and victims of domestic violence, who often decide to seek an abortion as a matter of safety.
Domestic violence is about power and control, and many abusers choose to weaponize a partner’s bodily autonomy and reproductive choices as tools of violence. Reproduction coercion, a form of interpersonal violence, is when an abusive partner uses power and control over their partner’s reproductive and sexual health. It may include sexual coercion, birth control sabotage, forced pregnancy, and other forms of threats, pressure, or violence aimed at a person’s reproductive agency and bodily autonomy.
Approximately one in five women have experienced pregnancy coercion and one in seven have experienced active interference with contraception. In a study of women seeking abortion, nearly 40% had a history of intimate partner violence. Non-Hispanic Black women (52.9%) and multiracial women (42.9%) are disproportionately affected by reproductive coercion compared to White women (20.6%). State bans and restrictions disproportionately harm survivors of color, immigrant survivors, low-income survivors, survivors with disabilities, and others who already face substantial barriers to accessing the healthcare they need.
Research shows that being denied a wanted abortion has serious and long-lasting impacts for a woman’s health, well-being, and financial security. Women denied an abortion experience an increase in household poverty lasting years; are less likely to have money to cover basic necessities; and experience lower credit scores and increased debt. As a result, women are forced to become dependent and trapped in abusive relationships. However, they are also at increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence than those who received abortions.
Pregnancy is also a very dangerous time in an abusive relationship. Abusive partners may try to control pregnancy outcomes, including violent acts to induce a miscarriage. Homicide is a leading cause of pregnancy-associated mortality in the United States, with the majority committed by an intimate partner.
The recently launched U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence rightly recognizes “the negative—and sometimes fatal—repercussions of [gender-based violence] during pregnancy and the postpartum period, where women are often uniquely vulnerable to intimate partner violence.” The Biden-Harris administration has taken laudable steps within its power to defend and protect reproductive rights and healthcare. But more needs to be done by Congress and individual states to ensure every person able to get pregnant has full access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion.
Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would create a federal statutory right for health care providers to provide abortion care, and a right for their patients to receive that care, free from bans and restrictions that impede access. States must also protect the right to abortion or create abortion safe havens for people who must travel out of state for care. Governments forcing pregnancy is a direct violation of a person’s human right to maintain bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent children in safe and vibrant communities.
All people, including survivors, deserve full control over their lives and decisions, including the ability to safely and freely decide whether or not to become, or stay, pregnant. The majority of Americans believe in reproductive and bodily autonomy.
Access to a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare—including abortion—can help victims of abuse survive and escape in order to create better, safer lives for themselves and their families. NNEDV is committed to building a world where everyone can live, thrive, and raise families in healthy communities, without violence.
Disclaimer: The above uses of “women” are based on the constructs of the studies and the resulting findings; however, the rights discussed are of all people capable of pregnancy.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) represents the 56 state and U.S. territorial coalitions against domestic violence. NNEDV is a social change organization working to create a social, political, and economic environment in which domestic violence no longer exists. NNEDV works to make domestic violence a national priority, change the way society responds to domestic violence, and strengthen domestic violence advocacy at every level.