Study finds link in abuse, abortion
Abortion-seeking women are more likely to have experienced partner violence than the general population, according to a recent study by University of Iowa professors and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, was based on a series of private screenings of 986 women seeking abortions at Planned Parenthood on issues of physical and sexual abuse, as well as battering. Researchers completed the study over a period of 81⁄2 months; all the participants were Iowa residents.
Researchers found nearly 14 percent of the women who sought abortions had experienced domestic violence from a partner in the previous 12 months. And 74 percent of those women said they had been abused by a former partner rather than their current partner.
Anne Wallis, a co-author and a UI assistant professor of epidemiology, said this is a meaningful discovery — from one of the largest samples of women from an abortion clinic ever studied.
“There is a myth in our society that abused women are at fault and don’t leave their relationships,” Wallis said. “Our research shows that this myth isn’t true and that a lot of women do leave abusive relationships.”
Studies such as this can help portray abused women in a more positive and empowered light, said Penny Dickey, a study author and Planned Parenthood’s chief operating officer.
She said Planned Parenthood has done brief general screenings of its patients for about the last 10 years, and it will continue to “in an effort to figure out how to provide help for patients who are suffering, so that they know where to go and from whom to seek help.”
But unfortunately, successfully leaving an abusive relationship does not ensure a woman’s safety.
“The partners they leave may still be abusing them, by stalking or in other ways,” Wallis said.
Twenty-five percent of the women in the study had no current partner, and these women had the highest levels of physical and sexual abuse.
UI Professor Audrey Saftlas, lead author of the study, said leaving a relationship is a risky time, and a potentially or already abusive relationship can become much more violent.
In fact, Wallis said, one reason a woman may seek an abortion after leaving an abusive relationship could be for fear of her former partner harming the child, especially if the former partner is the biological father of the child.
This was the first study to comprehensively evaluate battering and examine the frequency and severity of physical violence among abortion clients.
The research team will do follow-up studies exclusively for women who have already had children, because of the elevated risks they face.
But most importantly, the study is able to reveal the struggles of real women, and clear up common misperceptions — for instance, the presumption that women generally refuse to talk about the domestic abuse they suffer, Dickey said.
“Women need to be asked before opening up,” she said. “If you ask them, they will tell you.”
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