Throughout our Domestic Violence Awareness Month blog series, you will hear about domestic violence from various individuals, each with a unique perspective and experience. This week, in their own words, we hear from Ema and the staff at Apna Ghar. Thank you to our contributing writers for sharing.  

 

“When considering the topic of reproductive rights, I immediately think of the issues since Roe v. Wade was struck down and abortion bans went into effect across the nation. While Illinois has made significant efforts to protect all rights to healthcare. I live in Missouri, a state that immediately had one of the most restricted bans for abortion rights automatically go into effect. Illinois is surrounded by such states and has had an exponential increase in calls over the past year from pregnant persons seeking legal abortion services.

What is the connection between abortion bans and domestic violence services? Let’s first define the differences between reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice.

Reproductive health is the care and services addressing all reproductive processes and functions including contraception, prenatal, pregnancy, and postnatal care, fertility support, and treatment for STIs and STDs; this is not an exhaustive list. Reproductive rights are the focus on legal issues to accessing reproductive health; and is about freedom of choice, the choice of when to safely have or not have a child. And reproductive justice is the movement for all women to have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make their own choices for their bodies and reproductive health. Domestic violence introduces challenges to all three.

In my role to support capacity building for domestic violence agencies throughout the state I need to understand all the challenges that survivors face so that we can help programs remove barriers to services and independence. One form of domestic violence is coercive control in restricting a person’s access to reproductive health. A person who causes harm in the form of coercion might sabotage contraception or intercept birth control, force sex, force unwanted pregnancy, or otherwise hinder a person’s ability to have control over their own body. Since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline about reproductive coercion have nearly doubled and the uptick in calls reporting intimate partner violence increased by nearly 100 percent. 

Capacity building also needs to address that certain populations have intersecting issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, ableism, and others which contribute to an increased risk for domestic violence and barriers to services. Reproductive abuse is another method of denying Black women autonomy and control over their bodies and sexuality. Teens need access to confidential reproductive health services36 states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion. LGBTQIA+ people need access to reproductive health services that are inclusive of their identities and experiences. Support for domestic violence agencies might take shape in partnering with other service organizations in their communities and advocate training on intersectionality and trauma-informed care. These are the types of ongoing training and capacity building efforts that ICADV provides to support domestic violence agencies throughout Illinois. 

Protecting the reproductive rights of survivors is a critical factor in helping survivors become independent of their abusers. While abortion rights currently vary from state to state, additional challenges are being proposed in some areas in the form of travel bans. These bans are intended to prevent pregnant persons from traveling to another state to obtain a legal abortion. Case law supports inter-state travel as a constitutional right, and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirms this in his concurring opinion in the decision overruling Roe v. Wade. There are additional legislative and administrative efforts to protect reproductive rights. ICADV has an active role in legal advocacy and lobbying on behalf of domestic violence survivors’ rights in Illinois and across the nation.  

As the Capacity Building Technical Assistance Coordinator, I will continue to contribute to the efforts of ICADV to protect reproductive rights and strive to support reproductive justice for the communities that we serve.”

— Ema Phelps, ICADV Capacity Building Technical Assistance Coordinator  

 

“Apna Ghar’s mission is to provide critical, comprehensive, culturally competent services, and to conduct outreach and advocacy across marginalized communities to end gender violence. We aim to empower survivors, engage communities, and elevate gender and racial justice. Apna Ghar’s work is based on an evidence-based model – a socio-ecological framework that we co-created with the Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) at Loyola University. The framework accounts for the micro and macro level factors that impact survivors.  

Apna Ghar’s program participants are from more than 50 countries including the United States, and face unique and challenging barriers, including lack of access to reproductive healthcare, in addition to factors such as cultural and religious norms, and linguistic barriers that further compound their experiences of gender-based violence. These factors also lead to traumatic experiences, such as forced pregnancies, or coerced abortions. The healthcare system also often poses additional stressors with survivors receiving suboptimal care, coupled with the ongoing struggles of navigating complex systems. Feedback from a recent refugee service convening also underscored many survivors’ discomforts with improperly trained interpreters, emphasizing the need for sensitive healthcare responses.  

These multi-layered challenges point to the importance of a tailored and individualized approach to reproductive health that is survivor-centered, trauma-informed and culturally competent. The recent reversal of Roe v Wade has made survivors already marginalized by race, even more vulnerable. By ending the federal right to an abortion, the US Supreme Court has given states the authority to create their own policies, which means that laws now vary widely, with some states enforcing near total bans. In response, Apna Ghar, in partnership with South Asian SOAR (Survivors, Organizations, and Allies – Rising) has supported survivors crossing state lines to seek reproductive healthcare including abortions in Illinois. “Leena” is one such survivor, who came to Apna Ghar from Texas. She is a young woman whose parents had forced her into a marriage she didn’t want to be in, and when she became pregnant against her will, her parents would not allow her to access care. They along with her abusive spouse closely monitored her movements, and bank accounts. Still through sheer determination, Leena found a way to reach out to a domestic violence agency in her area, who connected her to Apna Ghar. Together our agencies provide emotional, medical, financial and legal advocacy and support to Leena to ensure her travel, housing, healthcare and legal needs were met. Leena is now safe and healthy as she begins her journey of empowerment away from those who caused her so much pain and harm.  

Apna Ghar has in collaboration with the National Asian Pacific American Women Forum (NAPAWF), created a national policy agenda to ensure reproductive justice despite the changes in federal law. This strategy is geared towards diminishing disparities in reproductive healthcare and addressing the unique barriers that survivors of gender-based violence face.”

— Apna Ghar Staff