Anti-Abortion Laws Cause More Domestic Violence Deaths, According to New Study

"When you can’t get abortion or reproductive care in your community, you’re just more vulnerable to violence,” one domestic violence expert told Jezebel.

Anti-Abortion Laws Cause More Domestic Violence Deaths, According to New Study

One year ago, a Texas woman was killed by her partner—who had a prior record of domestic violence—for getting an abortion. Before that, in the summer of 2022, a Missouri man was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife in 2019; before she went missing, she’d searched on her cell phone, “What to do if your husband is upset you are pregnant.”

Homicide, often by an intimate partner, is the leading cause of death for pregnant people, and abusive situations are likely to escalate when someone becomes pregnant. Now, a new study published Monday by Health Affairs, finds that there’s a direct link between anti-abortion laws and a higher rate of domestic violence-related homicide. Specifically, these laws—known as TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws—use burdensome, often impossible requirements to shut down abortion clinics. Ironically enough, anti-abortion lawmakers have long justified that TRAP laws are necessary for “women’s safety.”

The study analyzed data collected between 2014 and 2020 and found that enforcing just one TRAP law on one clinic led to a 3.4% increase in the rate of domestic violence homicides in the state. Researchers wrote that in this six-year time period, an estimated 24 women and girls between the ages of 10 to 44 were the victim of an intimate partner violence-related homicide, that was associated with TRAP laws. And it’s crucial to highlight that the data collected was only until 2020, two years before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Over a dozen states have since enacted total or near-total abortion bans, while others maintain severe restrictions. 

“When you can’t get abortion or reproductive care in your community, you’re just more vulnerable to violence,” Marrium Durrani, vice president of policy at the National Domestic Violence Hotline told Jezebel. Last summer, the Hotline reported that calls involving acts of reproductive coercion, or abusive partners trying to coerce their victims’ reproductive decision-making, had doubled since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that reversed Roe.

In Oklahoma, which banned abortion after Dobbs and has the highest rate of domestic violence in the United States, advocates working in victim services say the state’s abortion laws have put victims at greater risk. “We’ve had a few patients come in saying that [their abusers] just keep the patient pregnant so they can’t leave,” a forensic nurse administrator at the Tulsa Police Department told Mother Jones earlier this year.

According to Durrani, the Hotline has heard from victims living in states with abortion bans that their partners tampered with their birth control or weaponized confusing laws to stop them from seeking abortion care. The organization has also heard from a caller whose partner didn’t allow her to use contraception, and then threatened to kill her after she became pregnant; another caller became pregnant in a state that banned abortion after her partner sexually assaulted her. (Birth control sabotage is a common feature of abusive relationships: Fifteen percent of women experiencing physical violence from a male partner have also reported birth control sabotage, and a quarter of adolescent girls with an abusive male partner have reported that their partner attempted to impregnate them by interfering with their contraception.)

“Survivors are being trapped by these abortion laws,” Durrani said, “and in this really terrible new landscape, it’s only going to, frankly, cause more death, more violence targeting people who are in abusive relationships.” Durrani also pointed to previous research like the Turnaway Study, which similarly found that people who are denied abortion care are at a significantly greater risk of long-term domestic violence. “You might find people tied to their abusers for much longer if they have children with them, creating heightened, longer-term danger.”

Rita Smith, vice president of external relations at Domestic Shelters, told Jezebel that “abusers are good at using every tactic, every strategy, every tool—including the law—to control the life of a victim.” This can include “refusing to let them see a doctor, or get abortion,” or, as we’ve already seen, using abortion bans to “harass victims with lawsuits” for obtaining abortion care. “They find opportunities everywhere,” Smith said. “Abortion bans have created a new opportunity.” Bans have also created a culture of fear that prevents doctors and advocates from freely communicating with victims about getting an abortion, Smith said. It’s a tremendous loss because information like this can be “life-saving” for victims.

“Criminal justice data is often lagging, so we may not fully see the impact of these laws on domestic violence victims for years,” Smith added, “but I would be really surprised if we don’t see an increase in the number of domestic violence homicides during this time, in abortion restrictive states.” Between confusion about when hospitals in states can act to save pregnant people’s lives, and, as this new study shows, greater exposure to intimate partner violence homicide in connection with abortion restrictions, it’s clear to Smith what’s happening: “We’re seeing a cultural shift in what the value of women’s lives is.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin