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Coercion, Violence, & Pancakes

It’s not often that you see the term “killer pancakes” come up in the news. I initially thought the article that appeared on my Facebook feed would be about unsanitary restaurant conditions, but alas. The article was about a man from Kansas who brought his pregnant girlfriend a romantic breakfast in bed…which he had secretly laced with an abortion-inducing medication. The drug killed her 9-week-old fetus, and Scott Bollig, 30, has now been charged with first-degree murder of the fetus and aggravated battery of his girlfriend. Read the story here.

Bollig’s murder charge is possible under a Kansas statute called Alexa’s Law, which makes harming or killing a fetus a separate and specific crime—unless that fetus is harmed or killed through voluntary abortion, of course. That’s, y’know, completely different.

(Photo: Scott Bollig, the not-so-proud father)

According to court documents, Bollig initially told his girlfriend to abort.3 When she refused, he chose a very direct path in forcing her to do so. But it’s easy to imagine that another man in Bollig’s situation might force his girlfriend to abort in other ways instead. He might bully her relentlessly, or threaten to evict her, or blackmail her, or physically harm her. He may employ all kinds of emotional manipulation and abusive behavior. In all honesty, if Bollig had used any of these tactics to force his girlfriend to make an appointment at an abortion clinic instead of playing doctor himself, he would likely not face any consequences for his actions at all.

The Case of the Killer Pancakes—although it sounds like an intriguing Nancy Drew mystery—actually illustrates an oft-ignored but very serious aspect of the abortion debate: coerced abortion. 64% of American women presenting for post-abortive treatment were coerced to abort8. This coercion usually (but not always) comes from the father of the child, and studies have repeatedly found connections between abortion, coercion, relationship abuse, and what has been termed “reproductive control.”5

But the most alarming aspect of this issue is its proclivity towards outright violence. In the past few years, at least 110 pregnant women were murdered by their partners after they refused to abort11,12. Yet this number is only a small piece of the larger issue. We only have available information about the men who actually killed their partners and confessed in court that her refusal to abort was the motivation. We can only wonder about the men whose attacks caused injury or deliberate miscarriage or the men who were verbally or emotionally coercive. We can safely assume that murderers are a fraction of the men who become violent, and that the men who become violent are in turn a fraction of the men who use verbal or emotional coercion. Ultimately, we know there must be a frighteningly large number of pregnant women who are being forced, coerced, harassed, or threatened into an abortion by the father of the child.

We can assume that most women who find themselves in such a horrible situation will indeed abort—when you are threatened with the loss of home, financial support, or even your life, the decision becomes a non-choice. Many women in this situation are then kept silent by the stigma associated with getting an abortion and fear of the reactions they will receive. Those who profess to be pro-life may condemn a woman in this position for “giving in” or accuse her of weakness. Those who call themselves pro-choice may not believe her claim that she was coerced or forced, demanding she take responsibility for her own choices.

The recent case of a romantic breakfast gone horribly wrong is not a freak, one-time incident. It is just the most sensational and media-worthy example of the men who believe their desire to not pay child support is a good enough reason to treat another human being with extreme cruelty. A man with this mindset will drive his partner to abort, whether or not she is willing, and may react with violence if she refuses.

Unfortunately, some pro-choicers like to sweep these incidents under the rug and claim coerced abortion is a problem that “doesn’t actually exist”7. That stance does nothing to help the women who face this excruciating situation. Thousands of women have come forward and spoken about their coerced abortions. We need all sides to come together if we want to empower women to live free from violence, fear, and abuse and to have the ability to continue their pregnancies—and their lives!—in an atmosphere of safety and support.

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