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Women who request abortions 'at higher risk of domestic violence'

A study in the UK shows that women who request a termination are six times more likely to experience domestic violence than women who attended antenatal clinics.

Image: Pregnancy test via Shutterstock

A NEW STUDY suggests that that the level of domestic violence experienced by women who seek a termination of their pregnancy is six times higher than women seeking antenatal care.

The new comparative UK study, which is published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, looked at the prevalence of domestic violence in women requesting a termination of pregnancy and those attending antenatal clinics.

It used self-administered anonymous questionnaires among 219 women in an antenatal clinic and 274 in a termination of pregnancy clinic in the Hull and East Riding areas of the UK.


The authors say that the study highlights that almost half of all adult women in England and Wales have experienced domestic violence of one form, whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.

The results showed that:

  • Among women attending termination of pregnancy clinics, 5.8 per cent were victims of physical abuse in the current relationship, whereas it was 0.9 per cent amongst women attending antenatal clinics.
  • The women in the termination group also suffered a higher rate of emotional abuse than those in the antenatal clinic population (9.9 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent).
  • Of the 274 women requesting a termination, 10 (2 per cent) mentioned domestic violence as a contributing factor.
  • The most common reasons for requesting a termination were financial worries and contraceptive failure.


The authors concluded that even though domestic violence was not given as a frequent reason for requesting a termination of pregnancy, “women who request an abortion are at a higher risk of domestic violence and this may be related to other life issues”.

They emphasised the importance of relevant training amongst healthcare professionals, saying that this would ensure that women are referred to appropriate support services “in a timely and sensitive manner”.

Dr Tonye Telema Wokoma, co-author of the study said:

Domestic violence remains a complex public health issue that may start or escalate with pregnancy and can cause many obstetric complications and psychological effects which ultimately may lead to loss of fetal or maternal life. Whether the pregnancy continues or ends, these women and their existing children live at risk.

Dr Wokoma said this study shows just “a small fraction of the true scale of the problem”.

Pierre Martin Hirsch, BJOG deputy editor-in-chief added: “Domestic violence can be extremely damaging to a woman’s mental, emotional and physical health and in some cases has been linked to postnatal depression.”

He said that more research in this area is needed “to determine effective screening methods and interventions to help women suffering from any form of abuse”.

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