Domestic Violence and Abortion
Some studies indicate that more than a third of women who abort are in domestic abuse situations. Statistically, two-thirds of women who abort report coercion. The layers of victimization become increasingly dangerous and complex when women are in a domestic abuse situation.
Throughout the nation, there are domestic abuse hotlines and it is very important for all pro-life workers to be aware of those hot lines. These call centers are staffed by people specifically trained to deal with the incredibly complex and difficult issue of domestic violence. The phone counselors are trained to help women in immediate danger find safety. They also counsel women on strategies to remain safe when it feels impossible to immediately leave the situation. These call centers are not specifically trained to deal with abortion, but with the specific issue of domestic violence. Their objective is the woman’s safety, not the safety of the unborn child; therefore, as sidewalk counselors, we have a clear calling and obligation to still intervene in these situations. Our prayer is this article will help us to do so safely and wisely.
It is clear the two issues of abortion and domestic violence are often linked. Here are some facts about abortion and domestic violence: (compiled by Angela Fisher)
Information on link between Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and abortion:
According to Ely & Murshid (2018):
- Approximately 5% of U.S. women have had an intimate partner who tried to force sexual activity that would result in an unwanted pregnancy on them in their lifetime.
- Estimates of IPV in abortion patients range from 12% to 35% (this includes sexual, physical and psychological abuse).
- The existence of IPV has been found to play a role in the abortion decision itself.
- The results indicating a positive relationship between physical violence and number of abortions are consistent with other studies also suggesting a relationship between multiple abortions and IPV (i.e, the more physical abuse, the more likely for multiple abortions).
According to Mainey et al. (2017):
- Women seeking abortions are more likely (up to 3x) to have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault than women who continue with their pregnancies.
- Numerous studies have found that domestic violence escalates during pregnancy.
- Unlike pregnant women who receive antenatal care and who have multiple opportunities to disclose domestic violence, women who undergo abortions are not routinely screened for domestic violence or sexual assault and possibly only come into contact with the health service once, at the time of their abortion, thereby reducing the opportunity for disclosure.
According to Peek-Asa et al. (2017):
- United States population-based estimates indicate that between 4 and 6 million women are physically or sexually assaulted annually by either a current or former intimate partner.
- Amidst the many physical and psychological complexities include concern for the future safety of the unborn child and of the safety of the mother post-birth, which may lead a victim to consider elective pregnancy termination.
- Nearly a quarter of women seeking elective pregnancy termination were at one time victims of intimate partner violence.
- Elective pregnancy termination among women with IPV was associated with sexual assault, lack of control over contraceptive choices, and coercive decision-making, and women who had not informed their partner about the termination were 3 times more likely to be victims of IPV than women who disclosed to their partner (This might be a very important clue to ask about abuse. If the woman has not told her partner that she is there for an abortion, this could be a warning sign of abuse).
- We found that women who opted for a medical termination had an increased prevalence of abuse when children were in the home.
- This may indicate that victims of IPV who have children in the home are more decisive or proactive in wanting to end their pregnancy, perhaps because they want to hide the pregnancy from their abusive partner.
Here in Charlotte, there is a domestic violence program that provides emergency shelter, 24/7 hotline counseling, and resources specifically tailored to help the women who endure domestic violence. The director offered me tips to pass on to sidewalk counselors in front of abortion centers to navigate as safely as possible counseling these women.
The first and most important thing that we should do is give the crisis hotline phone number to the women. If at all possible, this should be done without the abuser in sight. The people who answer the phones are specially trained to deal with domestic violence. It’s a very complex issue and the mindset of a woman in an abusive situation is not always rational. She has lost any sense of control, and has succumbed to either (or both) emotional and physical manipulation by the abuser. It is very important to give that sense of control back to her, reminding her that she needs to make the choice rather than her abuser. Sadly, these wounded women in crisis in front of an abortion center often believe abortion is the safest of their alternatives. They may perceive it as the only way to save themselves in a dangerous situation.
We counselors in front of an abortion center must be careful not to heap further abuse and coercion on these women. Our counseling needs to help them feel empowered to come to a decision for life on their own through our careful questioning and pointing out truth. It is very key that we not play into the coercive techniques that have so traumatized them in the abusive situation.
Anything the abuser sees that makes him feel his power and control are being threatened can put the woman in danger. If he sees her talking to us, if she tells him in the car she did not get the abortion, or even if she receives texts and calls from us, she can be in heightened danger from him.
It is best to give her our number and after strongly encouraging her to call the domestic abuse hotline, and ask her to call us when she is in a safe place. If we refer her for a mentor, tell the mentor not to call the woman but that the woman will call the mentor. Be sure to give the woman the contact number she will need. Give as much control and privacy as possible to the victim of domestic violence. The abusers often seize control of phones and computers, texts, calls and emails. Know that anything we communicate to the women might end up in the hands of her abuser, and prod him to increased violence.
Safe and secure housing is very difficult and limited. Here in Charlotte, Safe Alliance will provide emergency housing in a secure undisclosed location; however, the woman must meet stringent criteria for that limited resource. The criteria basically boils down to imminent threat of severe injury or death.
Nonetheless, whether she meets that criteria or not, the first number the woman should call is the hotline. Those phone counselors have training in strategies to keep the woman safe that most sidewalk counselors do not have. Sadly, most victims of domestic abuse take a long time before they manage to leave this situation. Most return to the same or a new abusive relationship.
In most cases, it is very unwise to offer to drive the women home or even to a safe place. The abuser, if he sees this or follows and finds her, often becomes increasingly violent. Again, the overwhelming recommendation is to have her call the victim abuse hotline. It would not be wise to confront the abuser. Calling him a coward or telling him to step up to his role as a man will likely just incite him to more violence against the woman.
So, given all these facts and suggestions from centers that study and work with domestic violence, how can we, as a Gospel-focused ministry, safely bring the healing truth of the Gospel to this situation?
I believe there are some key strategies we can use that empower the woman to make an informed choice, and, hopefully, convict the abuser’s heart. In this process, share verses and Biblical stories and truth that help point them to Jesus. Neither the abused or the abuser is in a place that is healthy or satisfying. We know that Jesus is the only answer to the heart-sick soul.
- State facts. Facts about humanity of the baby. Facts about useful resources. Facts about Biblical truth of the sanctity of human life.
- Avoid accusatory or condemning language or name calling.
- If the woman has lied to the man about the facility being an abortion center, consider the possibility that she fears his anger and control and is in an abusive relationship.
- Given the link between abortion and domestic violence, add a direct question to medical intake forms on mobile ultrasound units or when talking to women alone about what issues brought them to the abortion center.
- Ask questions that point the woman and her abuser to come to the conclusion themselves of what God would have them do.
- Look for opportunities to provide the woman with the domestic abuse hotline without the abuser knowing.
- Perhaps include a domestic abuse hotline phone number on literature that you hand out.
- Empower both the man and the woman with a Godly vision of what a family can and should be from a Biblical perspective. Paint a positive picture of mutual submission before God as the ideal in a healthy relationship for parents and children.
- Share the Gospel if they are showing interest in listening to it. We know it is the only real hope for transformed lives!
- Be sure the woman has your first name and number so she can contact you when she is in a safe place.
- If the woman has expressed fear for her life or her safety, call police.
- Do not drive the woman home or take her to your home, or give out your name or address. A violent abuser may take his anger out not only the woman, but on you. Do not put yourself in danger.
- Pray. If possible pray with both of them. Seek to defuse anger, but to bring God into the relationship.
- If the woman is alone, be sure she has all the necessary resources before she leaves including contact numbers for her to call. Be sure to directly question and determine the extent of the abuse and if she is in danger if she returns home, stay with her as she makes call to the hotline.
- Our model is Jesus. Jesus was calm, confident, prayerful, truthful, tactful, kind, and direct. We are to mirror Him in our endeavor to reach a lost world.