Abortion rights supporters protest outside the Supreme Court

Abortion rights supporters protest outside the Supreme Court on April 24, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Study Links Abortion Restrictions and Intimate Partner Homicide

"In thinking about pregnancy itself as a risk factor for homicide, it follows that the ability to prevent or end a pregnancy" could have "immediate implications" for the safety of pregnant people, said one researcher.

A new study links abortion restrictions to an increased risk that pregnant people will be murdered by their intimate partners—and since researchers examined laws that were in place before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and cleared the way for statewide abortion bans, the authors warn that the threat may be even greater than the analysis shows.

In the study released Monday, researchers at Tulane University looked at five separate abortion restrictions and compared them to the intimate partner homicide rates reported by the National Violent Death Reporting System at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For each of the abortion restrictions, all of which were in place from 2014-22, the rate of intimate partner homicide among women and girls of reproductive age rose 3.4%.

The researchers found that extrapolated across the United States, an additional 24 women were killed by their intimate partners over the time period.

The study controlled for domestic violence risk factors including income inequality and gun ownership.

Intimate partner homicide is "consistently among the leading causes of death in pregnant and postpartum people," lead author Maeve Wallace, an associate professor at Tulane, toldThe Guardian.

Because it is still relatively rare, however, the research team used girls and women of reproductive age as a proxy for victims of violence who were likely pregnant or postpartum.

"In thinking about pregnancy itself as a risk factor for homicide, it follows that the ability to prevent or end a pregnancy" could have "immediate implications" for the safety of pregnant people in states with severe abortion restrictions and bans, Wallace told The Guardian.

The newspaper reported that the research "is almost certainly an underestimate of the potential risk to pregnant and postpartum women, because intimate partner violence is generally underreported."

The study is the latest research illustrating "the horrific reality for women in America," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons in February found a 75% higher rate of peripartum homicide—the murder of a pregnant person or within a year of their giving birth—in states that restricted abortion access from 2018-20.

Reproductive justice advocates have pointed out that at least four states with abortion bans in place also ban divorce for married people who are pregnant.

"An abusive partner oftentimes views pregnancy as a loss of control, that their victim will now not be solely dedicated to them but will have somebody else that diverts their attention away from the abusive partner," Crystal Justice, chief external affairs officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told The 19th last month after the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated an 1864 abortion ban, which has since been repealed by state lawmakers but still could be in effect for part of this year.

"Not only is the state now saying with this harmful and antiquated law that you must stay pregnant against your will," Justice said, but "during that pregnancy, the state is not going to let you legally divorce your abusive partner. I can't think of anything more outrageous or cruel."

The U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), by texting "START" to 88788, or through chat at thehotline.org. It offers 24/7, free, and confidential support. DomesticShelters.org has a list of global and national resources.

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