Reproductive Autonomy: Why It Matters & How to Measure It

February 3, 2023

Participants in the P3 Study were asked a set of questions, known as the Reproductive Autonomy Scale. These questions were developed in the USA and so as part of the P3 Study we wanted to assess whether they worked here in the UK. Ms Eleanor Riches carried out this analysis as her MSc dissertation, under the supervision of Dr Hall and Dr Barrett, members of the P3 Study team.

What is reproductive autonomy?

Reproductive autonomy is the ability to control outcomes relating to reproduction – such as contraceptive use, pregnancy and family size. Reproductive autonomy is a non-negotiable human right and vital to women’s empowerment. Without autonomy over their reproductive decisions, women are at risk of unplanned pregnancy and coercion.

How is reproductive autonomy shaped?

A woman’s reproductive autonomy is shaped by the relationships and structures in her life. For example; her relationship with her partner, her family dynamic and her cultural context. As these factors change and evolve, her level of reproductive autonomy will fluctuate.

How can reproductive autonomy be measured?

The Reproductive Autonomy Scale (or RAS) was developed as a screening tool to measure women’s reproductive autonomy. The RAS can be used in a range of settings to help identify women with low reproductive autonomy who may be in need of extra support services.

The RAS is made up of 14 questions divided into 3 sections: Decision Making, Freedom from Coercion, and Communication. These are the three factors most influential in shaping a woman’s reproductive autonomy.

How was the RAS tested?

This research tested the RAS among a UK sample of women and shows it is valid and reliable for use in the UK. This means the RAS can be used as a screening tool in sexual and reproductive health clinics across the UK – as well as in research, policy development and health interventions. By identifying women at risk of low reproductive autonomy, the RAS can help support women’s empowerment and gender equity in reproductive contexts. For more information, read the full paper here.