Commentary

Opinion: Domestic Violence Awareness, Abortion and Elections

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and while survivors, scholars and advocates fighting domestic violence (I happen to be all three) appreciate the sentiment, awareness alone has not reduced the ravages of this public-health crisis that harms and kills millions worldwide. Escalating with the societal upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing today, domestic violence is in fact surging. At least 63 of our Colorado neighbors lost their lives to domestic violence-related homicides in 2020.

You may have heard that reproductive choice is on the ballot: The warnings have been loud and clear since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. What many Colorado voters may not realize is that when reproductive choice is on the ballot, domestic violence is on the ballot, too. Domestic violence and the elimination of women’s reproductive autonomy go hand-in-hand.

“Reproductive coercion” is a common form of partner abuse that interferes with a woman’s ability to make her own reproductive-health choices. Abusers sabotage birth-control methods or pressure the survivor to get or stay pregnant or end a pregnancy against her wishes. Researchers know that pregnancy is one of the two most dangerous times in a domestic-violence victim’s life; the other is when she leaves. Homicide is the single leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States. Domestic violence also tends to become more severe and more frequent during pregnancy. Considering this, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine warned doctors to “prepare for the likelihood that more people of childbearing age will experience (domestic violence)” in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.
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Senator Angela Williams (from left), Gena Ozols, Rebecca Zimmerman, Lydia Waligorski and Senator Faith Winter, testifying in the Colorado Legislature about domestic violence. On Oct 21, 2022, at 5:44
Courtesy Rebecca Zimmerman

Colorado is fortunate to have strong legislation in our state affirming the right to choose, and granting access to birth control and abortion. But we are not safe, yet. The results of the November 8 elections will affect all communities, whether there is an anti-choice candidate or initiative in that district or not.

Republican leaders at the national level such as South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham have already begun laying the groundwork for a national abortion ban that will supersede our state laws. Republicans need only to win majorities in Congress to force a ban on residents of all states — red or blue. Both the plundering of women’s bodily autonomy that would occur if a ban were enacted and the increase in domestic violence that experts predict are embodiments of violence against women that we must fight, wherever we live.

Colorado’s U.S. House District 8 is one of the battleground races that could decide whether an abortion ban succeeds in Congress. Dr. Yadira Caraveo, a pro-choice pediatrician with a long history of sponsoring and supporting legislation promoting the health and well-being of women, children and families in our state legislature, is running against Barbara Kirkmeyer, a self-proclaimed “conservative fighter” who has spoken at anti-abortion rallies and said that banning abortion “goes to the very moral and Christian foundation our country was built on." Despite the profound implications of Colorado sending another anti-choice representative to Washington, D.C., national pollsters are calling this race the state’s “most hotly contested."

Awareness is useless without action. This October, by all means, be aware of domestic violence. Also be aware of its horrific association with reproductive coercion and domestic violence homicide. Be aware of the vulnerability of domestic-violence victims and survivors without full access to reproductive healthcare. And then, no matter where you live in Colorado, do everything in your power to ensure that we do not contribute to a national abortion ban by sending an anti-choice representative to Congress: Vote, donate, volunteer and knock doors in swing districts.

Do it like it’s a matter of life and death. Because it is.

Rebecca Zimmerman, MSW, is a doctoral student researcher at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work studying intimate partner violence and public policy. She is the former chair of the Policy Committee at Violence Free Colorado, and has testified as an expert witness at the Colorado Legislature on matters involving intimate partner violence, of which she is a survivor.

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