Women having 10+ children isn’t a byproduct of immigrant life; it’s a sign of domestic violence. Reproductive coercion is profoundly common among immigrant and low-income communities due to a lack of access to reproductive medicine, language barriers, family expectations, medical racism, religious dogma and immigration status. Reproductive coercion is prevalent in my own community where women are often forced to endure multiple pregnancies against their will in an effort to secure basic needs including housing, financial stability and even citizenship. Women in my own family have been forced into pregnancies, so they could remain in the US. It was normalized that forced pregnancies were a prerequisite to securing a better life.
Reproductive coercion is a severe form of domestic violence yet does not receive enough attention. Reproductive coercion includes tampering with birth control, controlling finances, withholding visas or other immigration documents, denying transportation to medical appointments, and refusing to pay for reproductive medicine including the morning after pill. In the mid-90’s, the women in my family were adamant about not calling the police because it was speculated that they worked closely with Immigration and Naturalization Service, also known as ICE. We knew of neighbors who were deported for shoplifting. Any involvement with the criminal justice system meant possible denial of naturalization altogether. Survivors of domestic violence must contend with enduring reproductive abuse, domestic violence and racist immigration laws to secure citizenship, educational opportunities and financial stability.
Reproductive coercion and intimate partner violence are correlated. According to the research, unplanned pregnancies are two-to three-times more likely to be associated with intimate partner violence than planned pregnancies. It’s not uncommon for families to also engage in reproductive coercion against their daughters. In my experience, I’ve seen women guilted, shamed and even bullied into reproducing; myself included. Women are groomed to overlook coercion, emotional abuse, manipulation and blackmailing because it’s normalized as love. I’ve received messages from women who’ve told me: I didn’t know that was abuse until you wrote about it. This discussion extends beyond reproduction. This is about bodily autonomy, self-determination, decision-making power and financial freedom. Being childfree is why I am able to exercise an immense amount power, autonomy and control over my life.
I am writing about reproductive coercion because this is a pandemic. This is a public health crisis. Reproductive coercion is about controlling women’s bodies and ability to make self-determined choices, exercise economic decision-making power, participate in political movements, further educational opportunities, career prospects, and even health outcomes. It’s no wonder anti-choice bills are targeted towards low-income communities who already marginalized. Being informed about my reproductive health options has enabled me to live the life of my own choosing. Harnessing the power to determine when (or if), with whom and how many children I have enables me to remain in the driver’s seat of my life. And for that, I am grateful.