Research has shown that women often experience their first assault during pregnancy, or experience an increase in the form or intensity of violence. Violence against women during pregnancy is more likely to be very dangerous or lethal and there is evidence that some perpetrators deliberately target the foetus, using physical violence aimed at the woman's abdominal area, breasts and genitals.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 estimates that 59% of women who experienced violence from a previous partner were pregnant at some time during the relationship; of these, 36% reported that violence occurred during the pregnancy and 17 per cent experienced violence for the first time when they were pregnant.
International research indicates that a minimum of 4% and possibly up to 21% of pregnant women experience violence that causes injury. Babies born to women who have experienced violence are more likely to be of a lower birth weight, to be more vulnerable to illness, to be at risk of premature delivery and to be at greater risk of death in the months following birth (Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management, DHS, Victoria).
Abortion is often discussed in relation to women's reproductive freedoms and choice, however there is growing evidence that intimate partner violence (IPV) is linked to abortion for a significant number of women. Dr Priscilla Coleman presented on the link between IPV and reproductive issues for women at our 2013 Symposium.
For women involved in violent relationships, pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time when violence against the woman often increases, leaving women more vulnerable not only to complications for themselves and their unborn children, but also to forced abortion. This Swedish study showed that almost one third of women seeking abortion reported being involved in a relationship where they experienced violence.
It is clear that with international research demonstrating large numbers of women undergoing abortion experiencing coercion in one form or another, that abortion providers need to establish effective means of screening for domestic violence and ensuring that women are appropriately supported during the perinatal period.