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Service Women Overseas Deserve Better Access to Safe and Legal Health Care

Women in the United States military serve and sacrifice to safeguard our national security and deserve nothing less than access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care, after sexual violence. More than 400,000 women serve in the Armed Forces and defend our nation. Their families and dependents also serve and sacrifice. Yet they are denied coverage of abortion if they become pregnant as a result of rape and incest. Current law requires that servicewomen and members of military families seeking abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. This is an unjust barrier and changing it is imperative for the health and well being of servicewomen and military dependents.

Military Policy is Inconsistent with Other Federal Policies and Unfair to Servicewomen

The federal government provides insurance coverage of abortion for other women who are insured through the government including federal employees, members of Congress and their dependents, women enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare, and women who receive health care through the Indian Health Service. Similarly, the abortion restrictions in the recently enacted Affordable Care Act also provide exceptions for survivors of rape and incest. Yet, inexplicably, women in the military are denied abortion care in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. This is unfair. Making military policy consistent with these other federal health insurance programs is a matter of basic fairness. Women in the military have sacrificed for our nation and deserve insurance coverage of abortion care after rape or incest just like other women.

Servicewomen Deserve Safe and Legal Health Care

Servicewomen deserve comprehensive health care following sexual violence. Just like women in all walks of life, women in the military experience these crimes. Service members receive high quality medical care throughout their military careers for other harm that comes to them and should receive the same high quality care following sexual violence. Denial of coverage of abortion care will force some women to resort to unsafe abortion care and some women will not be able to access this health care at all. In addition, it adds significant financial burdens to women who may, as a result, delay accessing care in order to find the needed funds. Servicewomen deserve the insurance coverage that will allow them to access safe abortion care after rape or incest.

The Shaheen Amendment Would Provide Coverage for Servicewomen

An amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) would reverse this policy and allow military women and dependents to receive insurance coverage of abortion care in cases of rape or incest. On May 24, 2012, this amendment was adopted by a bipartisan vote of 16-10 in the Senate Armed Services Committee. The NDAA, with the Shaheen Amendment, will now go to the Senate floor where the entire bill will be considered. We are asking that Congress pass the bill with the Shaheen Amendment and ensure that servicewomen have the insurance coverage they deserve. Tell Congress to stand with raped servicewomen.

The Ban on Privately Funded Abortion Care at Overseas Military Bases Forces Women to Compromise their Privacy, Dignity, and Safety

Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of American women living on military bases overseas. Because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortions, even if the woman pays with her own funds, servicewomen are forced to choose between traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility, or having an unsafe, back-alley abortion. The Davis-Harman amendment would make abortion care accessible at American bases in countries where abortion is legal. This would allow our service women a standard of care comparable to that in the United States for all of their health care needs, including abortion.

Because it is expensive and difficult to travel back to the United States, many servicewomen access care from foreign providers who may speak limited English and practice medicine very differently than what they are accustomed to in the United States. Retired Lieutenant Commander Claudia Kennedy recounted the experience of one of her soldiers describing it as "mortifying and painful." Dr. Jeffrey Jensen served in the United States Navy at a hospital in the Philippines and observed a high incidence of complications he believes resulted from unsafe septic abortion. Forbidden to assist the women he treated, Dr. Jensen wrote:

"Imagine having the tools and training available to help these women, as I did, and being forced to deny those services.... We ask our servicemen and women to take great risks to defend this nation. In return for this selfless dedication, we are obligated to provide support for them, and not place them needlessly in harm's way."

Julie* experienced firsthand the dangers of this restrictive policy. She was serving in the Air Force in Japan when she discovered she was pregnant. In her own words:

"I will never forget the humiliation I felt.... I was turned away by my American doctors on base who wanted to educate me on the issue but couldn't do so legally.... Although I serve in the military, I was given no translators, no explanations, no transportation and no help for a legal medical procedure.... The military expects nothing but the best from its soldiers and I expect the best medical care in return."


*Name changed to protect patient privacy.

If you would like additional information, please contact the NAF Public Policy Department at naf@prochoice.org or 202-667-5881.

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