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Scant evidence that 15% of abortions are the result of coercion
If Your Time is short
The figure is based on a survey of about 1,000 women in the United Kingdom. The women did not confirm whether they got an abortion and weren’t asked to specify the source of the coercion.
The U.K. survey also found that women had been forced to have sex without contraception, had contraception damaged or withheld from them and were pressured to continue a pregnancy.
We did not find any study on the percentage of coerced abortions in the United States.
What leads women to seek abortions?
A statistic shared by a pro-abortion group suggested one alarming reason: coercion.
As the United States Supreme Court on June 24 handed down its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that gave women the constitutional right to an abortion, PolitiFact sought to learn more about the source of claims like this one.
In this case, the coercion statistic came from the United Kingdom — and it didn’t show what a tweet from the pro-abortion group suggested.
Its source was a poll commissioned by the BBC in February that sought to evaluate how common it is for women to experience what is called "reproductive coercion." That’s a term used to describe a number of scenarios, including forcing people to have abortions they don't want, or damaging or hiding contraceptives to force a pregnancy.
The survey, which involved 1,060 women in the United Kingdom aged 18 to 44, found that 50% of participants said they had experienced at least one type of reproductive coercion, according to the BBC.
An anti-abortion group in the U.S. elevated one aspect of the survey’s findings.
"We know that many babies are alive today because their mothers did receive that unexpected help," the National Right to Life Committee tweeted May 25. "With recent research suggesting 15% of abortions are the result of coercion, that support is even more critical."
The tweet links to a Right to Life UK story and is a shortened version of a quote by a spokesperson for Compassion Scotland, a group that campaigns against the implementation of buffer zones around clinics and hospitals that offer abortion. Spokesperson Hannah McNicol was quoted saying that women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve "emotional and practical support" and added that research suggests "15% of abortions are the result of coercion."
In the poll, 158 women — about 15% of the survey’s participants — said they had experienced pressure to terminate a pregnancy when they didn't want to.
But these women did not indicate whether they got abortions, and the survey doesn’t reveal the source of the coercion.
"I definitely think that statistic has to consider a bit more context," said Kamila Alexander, a nurse clinician and researcher of reproductive coercion at Johns Hopkins University. "The challenge with the way we measure (reproductive coercion) is that we ask women (in this case) to report the intentions of another party. Essentially, we are asking them to get into the mind of the person using the behaviors towards them."
We couldn’t find any study on the percentage of coerced abortions in the United States.
The National Right to Life Committee told us the comments from their tweet are from Right to Life UK, and that the two organizations are unrelated.
"The qualifying word in this quote and the tweet is ‘suggesting’ because that is what the study does. It suggests this is the case, but Right to Life UK can't say it definitely because it was only a survey and was limited," the committee told us in an email.
Women who are actively seeking an abortion in the U.S. are not asked if they are coerced into doing so, the group said.
Reproductive coercion is when someone uses pregnancy, contraception and sex as control. This type of coercion can take many forms and can come from different people, but the acts are often carried out by a person’s intimate partner, researchers have found.
Examples of this type of coercion include threatening to have a baby with someone else if the person doesn’t conceive, using violence to coerce a pregnancy, purposely breaking a condom, forcing a partner to terminate a pregnancy when they don’t want to, or injuring them in a way that may cause a miscarriage. It can also involve destroying contraceptives or creating barriers to birth control.
The survey’s question about abortion coercion asked the women to answer whether they had experienced "pressure to terminate a pregnancy when you did not want to." Respondents were able to select among four answers: "have experienced," "have not experienced," "don’t know" or "prefer not to say."
Alexander, the nurse clinician and researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said she looked at the data in the U.K. study and saw that the root of the question — about pressure to terminate a pregnancy — doesn’t specify the source of the coercion.
Some studies show that family members, particularly mothers and mothers-in-law, can be influential "around abortion decision-making," Alexander said.
According to the BBC, a third of women who completed the survey said they had experienced pressure to have sex without contraception, making it the most common form of reproductive coercion in the survey. One-fifth said they had been forced to have sex without contraception.
The survey also found that 1 in 10 of the women said they had experienced someone hiding, withholding or damaging their contraception, like poking holes in a condom on purpose. One in 10 also said they had experienced someone removing a condom during sex without consent, or "stealthing."
Tweets claimed that research suggests that 15% of abortions are the result of coercion.
The figure is based on a survey of about 1,000 women in the U.K. About 15% of the survey’s participants said they had experienced pressure to terminate a pregnancy when they didn't want to.
Contrary to the tweet, the women did not confirm whether they got an abortion.
The survey also found that some women had been forced to have sex without contraception, had contraception damaged or withheld from them, and felt pressured to continue a pregnancy.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
National Right to Life Committee tweet, May 25, 2022
Right to Life UK, Women-led group reveals no evidence of harassment or intimidation outside a number of Scotland abortion providers, May 23, 2022
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, 15% of UK women coerced into abortions, "devastating" survey shows, March 15, 2022
BBC News, Reproductive coercion: 'I wasn't allowed to take my pill', March 14, 2022
National Library of Medicine, Prevalence of intimate partner reproductive coercion in the United States: Racial and ethnic differences, Dec. 6, 2019
Prism Reports, Here’s what you need to know about reproductive coercion, March 29, 2022
Email interview, Kamila Alexander, nurse clinician and researcher at Johns Hopkins University, June 23, 2022
Email interview, National Right to Life communications department, June 23, 2022
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Scant evidence that 15% of abortions are the result of coercion
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