Pressured Into Pregnancy: Troubling Number Of Teen Girls Experience ‘Reproductive Coercion’

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Female adolescents are being pressured into pregnancy with alarming frequency, according to a new study conducted at Michigan State University. This type of relationship abuse, coined “reproductive coercion,” is defined as when a woman is pressured or forced into becoming pregnant against her own wishes.

The researchers, led by MSU assistant professor of social work Heather McCauley, found that about one in eight adolescent girls between 14 and 19 years of age have experienced reproductive coercion in the last three months. Typical methods of such abuse include tampering with condoms or a partner threatening to leave.

The study is the largest ever on the subject of adolescent females being forced into pregnancy. It utilized data from a previously conducted randomized study involving eight school health centers in California during the 2012-2013 school year and 550 sexually active female teens.

Up until now, the majority of research on forced pregnancy focused on young adult women. However, adolescent romances and adult romances can be very, very different, and clinicians should be able to identify signs of pregnancy coercion in younger patients. Furthermore, adolescent females experiencing such abuse may not respond to the same treatments or interventions that work amongst young adult females.

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“We looked at whether adolescents who experience reproductive coercion displayed the ‘red flags’ we typically teach clinicians to look for – like coming into the clinic multiple times for emergency contraception or pregnancy testing,” McCauley says in a media release. “We found no difference in care-seeking behaviors between girls who experienced reproductive coercion and girls who didn’t, so those red flags may not be present. Therefore, clinicians should have conversations with all their adolescent patients about how relationships can impact their health.”

Prior research into the matter had indicated that black women are more likely to experience this type of relationship abuse, but no such observation was recorded in this study. This, according to researchers, highlights just how much clinicians don’t understand about this type of abuse.

In all, 17% of studied teens reported some type of physical or sexual abuse. Females who did report reproductive coercion were four times more likely to also report another type of relationship abuse. Additionally, females who reported both relationship abuse and reproduce coercion were more likely to have a sexual partner at least five years older.

“These findings highlight how common reproductive coercion and other forms of abuse are in adolescent relationships, yet the signs of a teen’s unhealthy relationship may be tricky for clinicians, parents and other adults to spot,” McCauley comments. “So, parents could open the door for their teen to disclose abuse by having a conversation with them about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, including those that interfere with their decision making about their own reproductive health.”

The study is published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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