Abortion bans fuel domestic abuse — and make it harder for survivors of such violence to flee.
Abortion is banned in 14 states and severely restricted in 10. But anti-abortion laws are not just outlawing procedures. Rather, they are going after people who help someone receive an abortion. In 2021, Texas passed SB 8, an abortion bounty hunting law in which everyday citizens could sue someone who “aids or abets the performance or inducement of abortion.” This could potentially be an abortion fund that provides financial assistance or an Uber driver who takes someone to a clinic. Oklahoma has passed a similar law since then and, most recently, Idaho’s governor signed a law that would make it illegal to help minors in the state seek an abortion without parental consent. As Elisabeth Smith with the Center for Reproductive Rights explains, these “aiding and abetting abortion” laws are intended to “chill activity and make those of us who support abortion rights too frightened to help people.”
But the truth is that the ones engaging in harmful actions are those who pass and defend anti-abortion laws, since those laws directly aid and abet abusers who use abortion bans as ways to control pregnant people. When abortion is legal and accessible, it provides people an opportunity to make their own decisions and protect themselves or their other children from further harm. Without abortion, victims have fewer options and abusers have more control.
You’ve likely heard about the man in Texas who is suing three of his ex-wife’s friends for helping her receive abortion pills. Well, the women are now countersuing the man, saying that he was fully aware of their text exchanges but wanted to legally entrap his ex-wife so that he could continue to control her. The friends describe him as a “serial emotional abuser” who took pictures of the text messages so that he “could use [it] against her if she refused to stay under his control, which is precisely what he tried to do.” In a post-Roe country, this is the first lawsuit of its kind, but it likely won’t be the last — and it shows just how abusers can game the anti-abortion system.
Another tragic story is that of Gabriella Gonzalez, who was murdered by her boyfriend in a Dallas parking lot a few days ago because he did not want her to receive an abortion. Since abortion is no longer legal in the Lone Star State, Gabriella had recently returned from Colorado after a procedure. Her boyfriend, Harold, was so incensed about her having an abortion that he shot her in the head. The circumstances of the abortion are unclear, but if Gabriella had been able to access abortion care locally, Harold may not have known about the abortion and she could still have been alive.
The violent effect of abortion bans was known long before Roe v. Wade was repealed. The Turnaway Study, the first rigorous study of the effects of being denied a wanted abortion, determined that women denied an abortion were also more likely to stay in contact with violent partners. In fact, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that homicide is a leading cause of death in the United States during pregnancy and postpartum. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that one in six abused women is first abused during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, abusive rhetoric and practices are reinforced by Christian nationalist policymakers and advocates who don’t see women as autonomous beings. For example, a communications director for the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life shamefully equated domestic violence with abortion, stating that “violence is not a solution to violence, and we consider abortion to very much be a violent act.” In 2016, the Catholic Church gathered 350 clergy and laypeople from across the country to talk about how the Church can support victims of domestic violence and deter women from abortion. The gathering aimed to “offer help, encourage healing, and promote forgiveness.” This is laughable, since the Catholic Church can’t even properly hold its own priests accountable for decades of rampant child abuse that has taken place in its churches and schools.
As the Texas Tribune reports, for women in domestic violence situations who do have abortions, it can be “a breath of fresh air. … It felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel. There was hope.” Others are able to more easily file for divorce because they are not further entangled with an abusive partner. One woman attributed the “spark[ing] something deep inside her. A year and a half later, she began the process of divorcing her husband.”
Abortion access is crucial for everyone, particularly those who are in domestic violence situations. Everyone should have access to the full range of reproductive health care choices. Survivors of abuse are no exception.