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How Dobbs enables domestic violence


Excellent piece by Melissa Gira Grant about how bans an abortion act as a coercive tool for domestic abusers:

Nearly two years since the Dobbs decision, it’s clear that the end of Roe didn’t end abortion; rather, it has turned the decisions we make about our intimate relationships, sex, and pregnancy into opportunities for policing and punishment. Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers claimed Dobbs wouldn’t “punish the mother” for having an abortion. But even where laws don’t expressly criminalize someone for their own abortion, that abortion is considered a crime in many states can still be used against them. Abusers have noticed and taken advantage.

New research, investigations, and analysis of helpline calls show that the legal system itself has been turned into an instrument of abuse. While this predated Dobbs, the decision led to an escalation. “Abusers have turned to our legal systems to deny their victims bodily autonomy and further harass them for, I would say, as long as our legal system has existed,” Elizabeth Ling, senior helpline counsel for the Repro Legal Helpline at the reproductive justice law project If/When/How, told me by email. “But post-Dobbs, abusers have new tools to wield against their intimate partners. They have been emboldened by actual laws and language from anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers.”

Even prior to Roe being overturned, laws meant to restrict abortion access heightened the risk of deadly intimate partner violence. Homicide remains among the leading causes of death for pregnant people and people who have recently given birth. But anti-abortion laws make the situation worse. A study published in HealthAffairs this week revealed that with “the enactment of laws intended to curtail the availability of abortion services” between the years 2014 and 2020, a 3.4 percent increase in the rate of intimate partner violence–related homicide followed.

Abusive partners can also use state anti-abortion laws to intimidate and threaten partners who had an abortion. If/When/How operates its helpline for questions and support about abortion and the law, through which it has observed the impact of anti-abortion laws and legal cases. “Before Dobbs, people did contact the Helpline because they feared an abusive partner could use their abortion or knowledge of a pregnancy against them,” said Ling. But since, calls have increased, and with survivors “weighing the risks of their abusive relationship against their access to abortion.” Along with the helpline getting more calls, Ling said, “we have seen the threats from abusers become more specific. Some have threatened to call the police on family members who help them access abortion. Other abusers have falsely claimed it is a crime to leave the state, or [that] their victim has to have their consent to get an abortion. And abusers are weaponizing the rising abortion stigma against their victims, suggesting that their decision to get an abortion will harm them in unrelated court proceedings.”

This isn’t some incidental byproduct of legal structures to ban abortion; it’s a whole embedded system, and a very ugly one.

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