Cherry blossoms at night / by author

My Testimony Before the Texas House 

Reproductive Choices for Abused Women

I have been spending a lot of time lately at the Texas Capitol, protesting bills that would limit Texas women’s access to local, timely, and legal abortion. I signed up to speak at a hearing one of these bills, but wasn’t able to before the hearing ended. (There were over a thousand of us waiting to testify before the hearing closed after midnight.) However, if I had been permitted to testify, this is what I would have said:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify on this very important issue. I’m a native Texan and a person of faith. I’m currently a member of Representative Elliot Naishtat’s district, and I grew up in Houston, in Representative John Davis’s district.

I want to bring your attention to how this bill would affect women who are facing domestic violence and reproductive coercion. I urge you to vote against House Bill 2.

Before I was a graduate student, I worked part time at a hotline, helping people who were facing abuse from their intimate partners. A frightening reality of domestic violence is that abusers often use reproductive coercion and sexual assault to control their partners, in addition to other forms of violence.

Reproductive coercion takes place when one sexual partner forbids the other to use birth control, refuses to use contraception, or actively sabotages birth control methods. The unintended pregnancies that result can keep the victim tied to the abuser through fear and dependence. If a woman becomes pregnant or has a child, it can be even harder to leave a violent partner.

A survey conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that 1 in 4 callers reported reproductive coercion or sexual assault from an abusive intimate partner. A study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine that found that 40 percent of abused women reported that their pregnancy was unintended, compared to just 8 percent of non-abused women.

Personally, I will never forget how frequently I heard from women in this terrifying situation. I remember one woman who called the hotline where I worked, in tears, because her husband had lied about using a condom in order to get her pregnant with their third child. He did it as revenge for her going to the gym by herself.

I think about what challenges abused women must face if they want to get an abortion after their reproductive choices have been stolen from them by violent partners. Often, these women endure daily threats of death or injury. If a woman in this situation wants to get reproductive healthcare, she must often do so in secret to avoid being physically or sexually assaulted by her partner. This bill would make this kind of discreetness virtually impossible for any abused woman in West Texas or the Rio Grande Valley, and that strikes fear into my heart.

I am afraid for these women because pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times for women in an abusive relationship. I am afraid for a woman who called, scared to leave her abuser, but frightened that his violence would cause her to miscarry or die before her child could be born. I am afraid for these women because I’m not sure who or what they will turn to for help if they are determined to end their pregnancy but cannot travel for two days to a large city without their partner going after them.

Just as I so fervently believe that a woman should be free to have a safe pregnancy, and give birth to a healthy child, I believe that a woman should also have the choice to safely and discreetly end a pregnancy that endangers her life, and threatens to keep her tied to an abuser forever.

This bill would take away that option for countless women in Texas. I beg you to think of them. Please do not vote for this bill.

Instead, I invite you to encourage comprehensive sex education and education on healthy relationships in Texas schools. I also encourage you to think of ways you could support your constituents who are trying to flee abusive relationships. Is your local law enforcement thoroughly trained to help them? Are there adequate shelter facilities in your district? Your help and concern in this area will be life-saving and will reduce the need for abortions. Thank you for listening and considering my testimony.

If you are passionate about this issue, dear reader, I welcome you to follow what’s going on at #txlege on twitter, and read ongoing coverage at The Texas Tribune or Austin American Statesman. If you live in Texas, please contact your elected officials. If you live anywhere, please consider donating to women’s health organizations like Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. And, always, please consider donating to your local domestic violence shelter.