New Study: Many Iowa Women Seeking Abortions Have Experienced Violence

Jul 23, 2010

Nearly one in seven women who sought abortions at a large family planning clinic in Iowa (13.8 percent) reported at least one incident of physical or sexual abuse in the past year, usually by an intimate partner. The prevalence of physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner was 9.9 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa, College of Public Health and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

The new study finds that nearly three in four of the women who reported intimate partner violence (74 percent) identified a former partner as the perpetrator; the rest reported still being in a relationship with the perpetrator.

“Women seeking termination of pregnancy comprise a particularly high-risk group for physical or sexual assault,” said lead author of the study and University of Iowa Professor of Epidemiology Audrey Saftlas. “These findings strongly support the need for clinic-based screening with interventions. These high-risk women need resources, referrals and support to help them and their families reduce the violence in their lives.”

“We were excited about participating in this project,” said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Chief Operating Officer and a study author Penny Dickey. “Women in violent relationships don’t speak openly about such private matters, unless they are asked. We now need to go that next step to screen all patients for intimate partner violence and get them the support they need to get out of their violent situations.”

“This study is significant because it adds to the body of data that identifies a link between partner violence and unintended pregnancy,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler.

“Other studies have looked at young women, and urban women, so this makes the research base more cross-sectional. The link between dating/domestic violence and poor reproductive health outcomes is increasingly clear.” The average age of women in the new Iowa study was 25.7 years; two-thirds (66.9 percent) had at least some college education; and 64.7 percent were insured. Most respondents were White; 10.6 percent were Black; and 8.4 percent were Latina.

986 women participated in the Iowa study, completing anonymous, self-administered, computer-based questionnaires to estimate physical and sexual abuse and battering (defined as chronic nonphysical abuse characterized by controlling behaviors and abuse of power) from November 1, 2007 to July 18, 2008. Of the 1,415 abortion clients seen in the clinic, 1,193 were eligible and 986 completed the ten-minute questionnaire, which was available in English or Spanish.

It is the first study to comprehensively evaluate battering (defined as chronic nonphysical abuse characterized by controlling behaviors and abuse of power) among abortion clients, with 8.4 percent of those in a current relationship screening positive for battering.

Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence Among an Abortion Clinic Population” was published online June 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.

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