Reproductive Coercion: Coercion to Terminate a Pregnancy
This is the first part of a briefing paper by Debbie Garratt, of Real Choices Australia, on the topic of reproductive coercion. This article critiques a draft White Paper by Marie Stopes on reproductive coercion, while the second article examines the society’s many subtle and coercive influences on pregnant women. Click here to read part 2.
Marie Stopes, one of Australia’s biggest abortion providers recently released a draft White Paper entitled Hidden Forces: Shining a Light on Reproductive Coercion. As expected from an organisation heavily invested in marketing and delivering abortion services the paper has a very strong emphasis on coercion related to continuation of pregnancies with coercion to terminate barely warranting a mention.
In a culture where abortion advocacy is the dominant force the majority of published literature on reproductive coercion is biased toward coercion related to contraceptive sabotage and pregnancy continuation. It is no surprise therefore that the literature drawn on in the references to the White Paper rarely addresses coercion to terminate. For the most part coercion to terminate is no longer differentiated from coercion to continue a pregnancy, both being lumped together under the tidy label of ‘pregnancy outcome control’.
The White Paper spends a lot of time within its 50+ pages lamenting a lack of clear definition of coercion. I suspect this will remain a long-term problem as abortion advocacy organisations seek definitions that meet their ideological objectives of keeping abortion positively framed. Acknowledging abortion coercion becomes hugely problematic for such groups, especially when coercion in these circumstances must also include many of the reasons that the majority of women seek abortion.
Most abortions occur in the setting of women lacking necessary resources to continue a pregnancy, whether these are practical, economic, relational or supportive. When this is combined with subtle or overt coercion by other people, and by a dominant discourse that offers abortion as a solution for these social inequities, it seems very obvious that coercion toward abortion must be significant.
With leading abortion advocates and providers denying the existence of the dozens of women who change their minds every year after commencing medical abortions, we have a baseline for how such ideologues view the existence or prevalence of coercion to terminate. ‘These women simply don’t exist’.
While ignoring the prevalence of coercion toward termination, the White Paper makes a giant leap when it labels the Federal Government’s 2006 pregnancy support counselling scheme a form of reproductive coercion because it doesn’t allow abortion provider counsellors to access the Medicare rebate for counselling. They suggest that abortion providers, who only receive payment if a woman proceeds to abortion, demonstrate no bias in decision making counselling and should therefore have access to the payment. Such counsel should form part of any medical or surgical informed consent process without the requirement for added funding to do so.
It is also interesting to see the way in which abortion advocates perceive threat from the very few, mostly unfunded and volunteer driven pregnancy support services which offer support for women who would choose to continue a pregnancy. In spite of the fact that not all of these services have a religious basis, and many of them are volunteer staffed by qualified professionals, they are deemed to be incapable of providing accurate information without bias. In fact they further suggest, in the absence of any evidence, that such services can inflict psychological harm on women.
There is a very interesting statement made in the midst of this section, in relation to pregnancy support counselling services: ‘In no other sector can such unregulated practises occur without legal ramifications.” I would argue that in no other sector of health care can women demand a medical or surgical procedure for no reason other than that they want one, and doctors be forced to provide access to it either directly or indirectly. Of course the preference within this White Paper is that no doctor ever be allowed a conscientious objection to abortion because this is also a form of reproductive coercion. Apparently women are autonomous, intelligent decision makers who don’t need help or support in deciding whether abortion is right for them, but if they happen to come across a doctor who doesn’t provide them with an immediate referral, they may be forced to ‘continue a pregnancy against her wishes or seek abortion at a higher gestation’.
While Marie Stopes is being encouraged to take this process of investigation into reproductive coercion forward, it is prudent to note their own record of ignoring any pressures toward abortion from their 2008 survey entitled Real Choices. In their questions on why women resolved their unintended pregnancies in particular ways, parenting, adoption, abortion, their response options reveal exactly what they are looking for. With multiple options to choose ‘feeling pressured into’ for questions on resolving an unintended pregnancy by parenting or adoption, not one option was provided for a woman to say she was pressured to abort. This alone typifies abortion advocates’ interest in abortion coercion and the reasons why it is vital that we now highlight the very real and very prevalent experiences of women pressured to terminate. For this reason, this paper deals only with reproductive coercion related to pressure to terminate.
Click here to read Part 2 “Coercion is not just overt“
Click here to read more about Debbie Garratt