Fifteen per cent of clients seeking pregnancy counseling have been subjected to “reproduction coercion and abuse”, a study has found, as new polling suggests a majority of Australian voters want governments to take action to address barriers to accessing abortion care.
The new article, published in the journal Reproductive Health, says the 15% of people seeking pregnancy counseling after unplanned pregnancies were subjected to either “pregnancy preventing” or “pregnancy promoting” behaviour. The article defines reproduction coercion and abuse (RCA) as “behaviour that interferes with a person’s decision to become pregnant or to continue the pregnancy”.
The research comes as Essential polling undertaken for the Fair Agenda, an organization that campaigns for gender equality, found strong public support for reproductive rights.
According to a survey of 1,082 respondents taken in late July, 72% of Australians agreed with the proposition that Australian governments should ensure that patients who want abortion care can access it.
A majority (71%) agreed that religious beliefs should not impact on a person’s access to abortion care, 70% agreed nurses should be appropriately trained for the purposes of abortion care without risk of criminalization and 69% agreed that governments should take action to address barriers to accessing abortion care faced by many patients in rural and regional areas, or those experiencing domestic violence.
Voters over the age of 55 were more likely to favor reproductive rights than younger people, although this reflects a tendency in the survey for voters aged between 18 and 34 to select either “neutral” or “prefer not to answer” in respect to some of the questions.
The issue of abortion was discussed at a meeting of state and federal women’s safety ministers in July, with mounting concerns about reproductive freedom after the US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade. No firm commitments were made.
Alyssa Shaw, a spokesperson for Fair Agenda, said it was time for the Albanese government to address the barriers for women accessing abortion care by including services in Medicare.
Shaw said the federal health minister, Mark Butler, could take “immediate steps to remove barriers faced by women in Australia by including medical abortion care as a Medicare item number and subsidising the cost, up to $500”.
“Abortion care should be included in Medicare as a start in addressing the barriers many women face in accessing abortion, especially those in regional or rural Australia, and those experiencing domestic violence,” Shaw said.
The new journal article found that 15.4% of the 5,107 women studied had experienced RCA. Of those, 6% experienced coercion towards pregnancy, and 7.5% experienced coercion towards prevention or abortion. 1.9% experienced both, which the researchers said could be from the same person with contradictory behavior or changing “rules”, or the same person being coerced both ways by different abusers.
“Common behaviors associated with RCA that are promoting pregnancy include contraceptive sabotage, forced sex to cause pregnancy, emotional pressure, threats and/or violence to become pregnant or continue a pregnancy,” the researchers (which included experts from various universities, MSI Australia, and Children by Choice) found.
“Common behaviors associated with RCA that are preventing pregnancy include forced contraception use or sterilisation, emotional pressure, threats and/or violence to ensure a pregnancy is terminated, or physical violence to induce a miscarriage,” they found.
The authors said age, whether a person was from a migrant or refugee community, or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, did not “meaningfully predict” the risk of RCA. That means the systems of healthcare, health education and health research need to implement culturally safe approaches to RCA, they said.
MSI Australia is also calling for a federal approach to abortion and pregnancy counseling so it is fairer, more equitable and more accessible.
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