On July 23, 2021, California expanded the definition of “coercive control,” apparently becoming the first state to expressly recognize reproductive coercion as a form of domestic violence in statute. (Stats 2021 ch 135).
The language added as new Family Code section 6320, subdivision (c)(5) allows a court to issue a protective order enjoining:
“Engaging in reproductive coercion, which consists of control over the reproductive autonomy of another through force, threat of force, or intimidation, and may include, but is not limited to, unreasonably pressuring the other party to become pregnant, deliberately interfering with contraception use or access to reproductive health information, or using coercive tactics to control, or attempt to control, pregnancy outcomes.”
An intentional violation of a domestic violence restraining order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. (Pen. Code, § 273.6).
The author of the underlying bill, SB 374, Dave Min (D-Irvine) urged California’s recognition of this form of domestic violence, particularly in light of the surging domestic violence cases during the Covid-19 pandemic. As he wrote in support of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Analysis of March 21, 2021:
“Although the term reproductive coercion may be unfamiliar to some, this abusive behavior is far more common than many realize. Research shows us that many survivors of abuse also experience reproductive coercion, which includes, but is not limited to, interference with contraception use and pregnancy outcomes. We also know that reproductive coercion has a wide array of consequences for victimized individuals. Consequences include unintended pregnancies, coerced or late-term abortions, increased sexually transmitted infections, and increased levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicidality. By recognizing these actions as abuse and stating clearly that control over your reproductive decisions are central to your autonomy, safety and security, SB 374 DVPA will help survivors seeking justice and protection.”
Recognition of the phenomenon of reproductive coercion has been steadily growing. Studies regarding the prevalence of birth control sabotage – which includes hiding, withholding, or destroying a partner’s birth control pills; breaking or poking holes in a condom on purpose or removing it during sex in an explicit attempt to promote pregnancy; failure to withdraw when that was the agreed upon method of contraception; pulling out vaginal rings; and tearing off contraceptive patches – are revealing. Among teen mothers on public assistance who had experienced recent intimate partner violence, 66% reported birth control sabotage by a dating partner. (1) Among women with abusive partners, 32% reported that they had been verbally threatened when they tried to negotiate the use of a condom. (2)
A 2021 article by Eve Glickman of the Washington Post recently chronicled the growing body of academic and medical research into this type of coercion. in her March 14, 2021 article, ‘Not what I consented to’: When a partner tries to control the other’s choice about pregnancy.
California’s new legislation is an important step to help pave the way for greater awareness of this problem, and to empower victims and punish the perpetrators of this abuse.
(1) Jody Raphael, Teens Having Babies: The Unexplored Role of Domestic Violence, The Prevention Researcher (2005).
(2) Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente, The Effects of An Abusive Primary Partner on Condom Use and Sexual Negotiation Practices of African-American Women. American Journal of Public Health (1997).