Elizabeth Miller, a pediatrician with UC Davis Children's Hospital and her colleagues interviewed 61 girls from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, and found that abusive boyfriends had tried to get a quarter of them pregnant.
Miller, a physician trained in both adult and pediatric medicine who specializes in treating adolescents, said that that health-care providers need to question adolescent girls about abuse in the relationship when they come in for pregnancy testing and emergency contraception.
"Physicians are trained to think about domestic violence in adult terms. Our study suggests that health-care providers who come in contact with teens, especially those seeking pregnancy testing and emergency contraception, should ask about the possibility of abuse in the relationship and specifically whether the young woman's partner may be trying to get her pregnant," she said.
26 percent of the girls reported that by manipulating condom use, sabotaging birth control use and making explicit statements their partners were consistently trying to get them pregnant.
"We were floored by what these girls told us. You think of forced sex as an aspect of abusive relationships, but this takes that abuse a step further to reproductive control of a young woman's body." Miller said.
As for the solution of the problem, Miller was clear that those who provided reproductive care to adolescent girls needed to ask questions that revealed the complexities of partner violence, specifically whether a partner was actively trying to get her pregnant when she didn't desired for it.
"Historically, assessments in clinical settings have focused on physical and sexual violence - and for good reasons. However, our data argues for including questions, for instance, about whether a boyfriend is flushing birth control pills down the toilet or saying he used a condom when he didn't. And pregnancy prevention programs should include discussions about reproductive control as a form of abuse in relationships," she said.
"This study demonstrates for the first time that abusive boys and men often actively promote pregnancy including contraceptive nonuse in their relationships," said Jay Silverman, director of Violence Preventions Programs for the Harvard School of Public Health and senior author on the study.
The study is published in the Journal Ambulatory Pediatrics.