Abortion and Intimate Partner Violence
Why would a woman have an abortion? For a worrisome number of women, an abusive relationship is one of the contributing factors.
Some studies of women who have had abortions have focused on the experiences of women facing intimate partner violence. The statistics on intimate partner violence are sobering: of the women murdered in the United States, more than half, according to the CDC, are killed by a spouse or boyfriend. It is very common for pregnancy to trigger or escalate violence within an existing relationship, and to heighten the challenges a woman faces in walking away from an abusive partner.
It is a brutal combination of hard truths: if she stays, the violence may intensify; if she goes, she must face the challenges of single motherhood in a system with oppressive healthcare and childcare costs.
St. Paul instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, to be willing to lay down their lives for their spouses. No earthly husband can meet the standard set by Christ the immortal Bridegroom, but faithful Catholics are often surrounded by marriages in which the spouses are taking seriously their obligation to love sacrificially. From this perspective, it can be difficult even to imagine the difficulties faced by women whose spouses or boyfriends do not view their responsibilities in the same light — who act more like the thief than the Good Shepherd.
Within the pro-life community we must offer effective supports to the women who find themselves pregnant in violent relationships. Part of building a culture of life is building a culture of marriage in which men approach their responsibilities as husbands and fathers with humility and willingness to serve. Part of building a culture of life is transparency among married Catholics about the difficulties of marriage and parenthood — the ongoing need to apologize for falling short, to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation, to keep striving for holiness. Part of building a culture of life is recognizing that love is messy, that we can never fully understand another couple’s trials — or their potential.
The pro-life organization Feminists for Life talks about making abortion unthinkable — not just a procedure women can’t access, but one they would never want. For that to happen, we have to make sure that women in difficult situations can see their own value and dignity clearly. A substantial fraction of women seeking abortions have experienced multiple forms of violation and degradation: they may have been sexually abused as children, or may have experienced physical violence as dating teens, prior to experiencing intimate partner violence as adults. Our message about their babies’ unique and unrepeatable lives will come through more clearly when they know that we see them as equally valuable, equally important, equally worthy of protection and assistance.