NSW women experiencing reproductive abuse

Family Planning NSW will start screening for reproductive coercion after concerning research.
Family Planning NSW will start screening for reproductive coercion after concerning research.

NSW's largest family planning organisation will now routinely screen for reproductive coercion after its pilot study revealed that one in every 50 patients disclosed someone had interfered with their reproductive autonomy.

In 2019 Family Planning NSW asked almost 5500 patients whether anyone had deliberately prevented them from making decisions about their reproductive health.

The organisation's medical director Deb Bateson said this can involve pressuring a person to become pregnant, interfering with or sabotaging contraceptive methods, forcing a person to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion against their wishes and even coerced sterilisation.

"It is about acknowledging the woman is the holder of her history and working with her to provide information about different options," Dr Bateson told AAP.

Dr Bateson said reproductive coercion has "significant" clinical implications including unintended pregnancy, rapid repeat pregnancies and sexually transmissible infections, as well as the potential for psychological distress, anxiety and depression.

More than a third of clients who reported having experienced reproductive coercion disclosed they had experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months.

"Sometimes a woman may choose to use a method of contraception which perhaps can't be detected by a partner because she may feel that it puts her at a decreased risk of harm," Dr Bateson said.

While reproductive coercion is most likely to be enacted by intimate partners, Dr Bateson said it can also be perpetrated by family members or even at an institutional level.

The Family Planning NSW study found patients are more likely to disclose reproductive coercion if they had four or more visits to the service and it was reported more commonly by women who are unemployed or have a disability.

"The time it took to disclose is really important because it highlights that there is a level of trust needed," Dr Bateson said.

The organisation has routinely screened clients for domestic violence since 2012 and it will now add questions about reproductive coercion.

Dr Bateson said clinicians providing sexual and reproductive healthcare were in a good position to identify and support patients but reproductive coercion was not screened for in most healthcare settings.

"What we really want to do is raise awareness among the community and among all clinicians because it may be relevant to them," she said.

Australian Associated Press