What is Reproductive Coercion?

Reproductive Coercion is getting some surprise attention this week after actors Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder went on Dr Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy Podcast and related their pregnancy story with a few red flags. (Note: Dr. Berlin is a prenatal chiropractor, chiropractors are not medical doctors.)

I’ve linked the podcast so you can listen for yourself (the section in question is within the first 8 minutes) as well as a Jezebel article that includes a partial transcript, but basically, Reed says Somerhalder knew way before she did that he definitely wanted children, after they were married Somerhalder wanted to have children around the same time his best friends’ did, and then one night on vacation with aforementioned best friends, he popped Reeds’ birth control pills out one by one into the toilet while their friends filmed it and Reed was “freaking out.” Somerhalder ends the story by admitting really he was the one who decided to get pregnant, rather than his earlier use of “we.”

Is this reproductive coercion? And what is reproductive coercion anyway?

Reproductive Coercion (RC) is a type of intimate partner violence where one partner seeks to limit or control the other partner’s ability to make choices about their reproductive health. RC is a spectrum of behaviors, which can range from pregnancy promoting behaviors like tampering with birth control, sexual assault, and preventing someone from seeking an abortion if they want one, to behaviors that attempt to pressure, control, or harm a pregnant person with the aim of ending the pregnancy against their will.

When you listen to the actual audio, it seems as if they’re trying to make this into a cute, jokey story, but I can’t shake the red-flag-feeling. Reed’s response on twitter, shortly after media outlets started picking up on the story on Friday, characterizes the controversy as something the media has blown out of proportion, while most fan replies to her tweets are encouraging and insist that they knew it was lighthearted.

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Here’s the thing – the narrative was their own. There are many times that a controversy over how something was reported in a profile of a celebrity – which come from much longer interviews that are condensed for publication and may only feature select quotes, but this came from a podcast where Reed and Somerhalder were speaking openly and unedited. The multiple journalists and outlets that picked up on the podcast (a podcast which I imagine rarely makes national headlines) raised the red flag over Somerhalder’s description of tossing her birth control in the toilet while Reed was upset, and that Reed asks about the video that was taken and wonders if she was too drunk to remember. These elements are alarming facts, and I when I listened to the actual audio the way they were told didn’t make me feel any better. Maybe they didn’t tell the story in an artful way, but these are tactics that are part of the spectrum of behaviors known as RC.

Reed and Somerhalder later put out a joint statement addressing the allegations of reproductive coercion:

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Celebrities are very often not experts on the topics they become associated with. This is true. However, it is a rare moment in pop culture that a relatively little-known public health problem is gaining some attention, which is ultimately a good place to start a conversation.

Mapping Abortion Access

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This visual representation of abortion access in the USA from The Pudding is really fantastic and informative –albeit depressing.

Since 1973, abortion has been legal (up to the third trimester of pregnancy) following the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that asserted that pregnancy termination is part of a pregnant person’s right to privacy. Prior to Roe v. Wade, death due to unsafe, illegal abortion accounted for a significant percentage of maternal deaths. Access to safe and legal abortion dramatically reduced maternal deaths and abortion is now one of the safest surgical procedures (safer than giving birth!)

The maps that The Pudding put together (a site I’d never heard of before but I love “visual essays” so goodbye to all of my free time) are really great because they help visualize the specific barriers that people seeking abortion face both in clinic location (the above screenshot) and availability of services according to location and gestation (below screenshot).

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Abortion is legal, but what is legality without access?

In the spring semester, I worked on a group project for a class about abortion access in Pennsylvania, and we plotted clinics that offer abortion services on a map. It becomes abundantly clear, when looking at the map, that the 20 or so providers are clustered in mainly urban areas. But people live in those in-between areas too! Population density is greater in those urban areas, but when you look at 2010 Census data, you can see that there are huge areas of the state where physical access is severely restricted. And these plots don’t even get into the specific restrictions each clinic may have on what types of services they offer.

As The Pudding explains, TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws frequently limit access to abortion by instituting arbitrary rules for “safety,” but are actually medically unnecessary, political moves. It is expensive and time consuming to fight them. (If you’re interested in this – I recommend watching the documentary Trapped.)

Abortion access is an issue I care about a lot, but I think it’s really important to have these kinds of visual representations of data and access because it can succinctly and clearly translate these complicated issues. So check out the maps that The Pudding put together