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To reduce the incidence of reproductive coercion, healthcare providers need to talk about it

August 30, 2010

The first step to reducing reproductive coercion is simply to ask young women if they have experienced it.

That’s the upshot of a pilot study involving four family planning clinics in urban Northern California neighborhoods.

In two of the clinics, women patients were asked whether their boyfriends had pressured them to get pregnant (for instance, by threatening to dump them if they didn’t get knocked up). Clinic workers also asked patients whether their boyfriends had sabotaged their birth control (such as by breaking condoms on purpose or hiding birth control pills).

In the two comparison clinics, patients were treated as usual.

Three to six months later, researchers followed up with all of the patients to see if they had been coerced into getting pregnant. Among women who were recent victims of intimate partner violence, the patients who were asked about pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage were 71% less likely to become pregnant against their will, according to the study. They were also more likely to break up with their boyfriends – 52% of them did, compared with 45% of their counterparts who were treated at the clinic where pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage weren’t discussed.

The results were published online this week in the journal Contraception.

The researchers speculated that the higher rate of break-ups contributed to the lower rate of unwanted pregnancies. The findings suggest that educating women about pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage can empower women to get out of unsafe relationships.

The researchers cautioned that the four clinics in their study are not representative of clinics across the country. More research is needed to see if the results can be replicated more widely, they said.

-- Karen Kaplan/Los Angeles Times

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