California’s Military Women Support Our Freedom. Shouldn’t We Support Theirs?


Imagine you’re a soldier stationed overseas and discover you’re pregnant. If you want to have an abortion but are living in a country where it’s illegal, you might as well be living in pre-Roe v. Wade America. Why? Current federal law prohibits almost all abortion services at U.S. military hospitals, even if a woman pays for the procedure herself. So, like a woman in the 1950s, you can fly to another country to obtain safe, legal abortion care (if you can afford to travel and can arrange leave) or take your chances with an unsafe, illegal, local or self-induced abortion.

Here in California, we are sending thousands of women into military service and have the highest proportion of female veterans of any state — and these numbers are growing. We have among the strongest laws in the country protecting reproductive rights. But when California servicewomen are shipped out of state or overseas, they are deprived of the fundamental right to make pregnancy decisions.

The ban, which has no exception for pregnancies that jeopardize a woman’s health, poses grave risks for women stationed in countries where abortion is outlawed. Coupled with a tremendously high number of incidents of sexual assault in the military, a disturbing scenario emerges. A new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute documents that “the restrictions fall hardest on the most junior of enlisted ranks, who are also the most likely to have an unintended pregnancy.”

This ban on abortion at military facilities hasn’t always been in place. Prior to 1988, military women were allowed to use their own funds to obtain abortions on military bases overseas. Military officials had wisely recognized that at many overseas stations — or even isolated areas in the U.S. — safe and reliable civilian facilities that provide abortion care are not always available.

An amendment to the pending National Defense Authorization bill would repeal the dangerous ban on privately funded abortion care and allow U.S servicewomen to use their own money to obtain abortion services at U.S. military facilities. Congress will likely pass the bill sometime in the fall. Since the House version doesn’t include a repeal of the ban, it’s important to reach out to representatives to urge them to support reproductive health care for our soldiers.

California congresswoman Jane Harman has said that military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. Several studies indicate that as many as a third of military women report rape or attempted rape during their military service. Department of Defense research reveals 3,230 reported sexual assaults in 2009, up 11 percent from the previous year. Servicewomen and veterans indicate that, due to incredibly low reporting rates, the actual number of sexual assaults of military women is much higher. DOD’s own statistics confirm low reporting rates.

Although the ban on abortion at military facilities includes an exception for rape and incest, it is meaningless when women in the military don’t feel that they can report sexual assault, especially if that assault is by commanders or fellow soldiers.I recently met with a young veteran who told me that when she reported being raped to her commander, his response was “What is it with you women? You’re the third this week.”

Journalist Kathryn Joyce reported the story of a 26-year-old Marine named Amy* who was stationed in Fallujah when she realized she was pregnant as a result of rape. Amy didn’t report the rape, fearing backlash from her male comrades. The abortion ban meant there was no other way to end her pregnancy. She attempted to self-abort using a cleaning rod from her rifle.

Lifting the ban would return the Department of Defense to the policy that existed for many years: women soldiers facing unintended pregnancies could obtain safe abortion care from doctors willing to provide it. It’s such a cruel irony that America’s young women who volunteer to protect our constitutional rights are denied theirs.

Congress should act now to end the ban on private funding of abortion at military facilities. Our Armed Services women deserve more from their country.

*pseudonym

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • kevin-rahe

    California congresswoman Jane Harman has said that military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. Several studies indicate that as many as a third of military women report rape or attempted rape during their military service.

     

    Umm, perhaps I’m being too logical, but wouldn’t this suggest that perhaps we should re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing women in the military?  At the very least, arguing over access to abortion without addressing the atrocities that lead to the supposed demand for them is irresponsible.

  • beenthere72

    So it’s the women’s fault for being present in the military for getting raped?   The men shouldn’t take any responsibility and say maybe RESPECT women? 

     

    I’ll say it again, Kevin:  Seriously?  GTFO.  Seriously.

  • mechashiva

    My ex, a Navy veteran, made that argument when I brought this issue up with him. His opinion was that because we can’t expect the men to not rape their comrades-in arms, women should be in segregated units or simply not allowed to serve in the military. His pseudo-feminist argument was that we live in a culture that propogates beliefs about sex and gender that encourage rape, and this is even more true in the military sub-culture. Men in the military (and elsewhere, imo) tend to resist programs designed to discourage sexual harassment, assault, and rape, so the only way for there to be real change is to just wait until our mainstream culture addresses the issue. Until then… this is just one of the many reasons women don’t belong in the military, according to him.

     

    Of course there’s one big problem… our culture isn’t going to change if we just take a “wait and see” approach. Additionally, the above thinking suggests that men can’t (and therefore shouldn’t) be held accountable for rape. They can’t help it if they rape someone, it’s just the culture/stress of war! It suggests that rape is a normal/expected behavior, considering the environment. To me, that means we need to change the environment, and not by removing women. We need to foster an environment that would support soldiers seeking psychological care (the stresses of war do contribute to rape), for one thing. We also need to hold soldiers accountable for sexual misconduct.

     

    My ex’s argument against providing abortion services on military bases was centered on a warped version that idea of accountability. In combat areas, soldiers are not supposed to be having sex. Seriously, that’s a rule. Here’s where some fucked-up shit comes in. First, the ex claims that women in the military who become pregnant just “cry rape” so that they won’t be punished for having had sex in a war zone (just like they get pregnant on purpose so they can be transferred to a better/safer location, then they “just have abortions” and stay at a new cushy command). Furthermore, he believes consensual sex in a war zone is so threatening to combat operations that it should be discouraged in any way possible. That means no providing contraception and no providing abortion… so that soldiers will be dissuaded from having sex with each other. Of course, his claim is that it would be much easier to solve the problem by just disallowing women in the military to begin with. Gay men can stay, though, because they keep quiet about the sex they have and don’t let it emotionally compromise them during missions (not like those hysterical women or the heterosexual men who might actually care about them, those pussies).

     

    Notice a pattern? His solution to all problems that women in the military might face is to keep women out of the military. Underneath all the bullshit excuses, he really just has an attitude of disdain for women… particularly military women. If he’s to be believed, his perspective is par for the course among men in the service. I find this highly disturbing. How on earth do you go about changing attitudes like those?

     

    In any case, it needs to be done without compromising women’s rights. Military service offers many benefits, and women should have equal access. It certainly wouldn’t send the right message to take a backwards step by removing women from military service. It would be like kicking blacks out due to all the racism.

  • colleen

    Umm, perhaps I’m being too logical, but wouldn’t this suggest that perhaps we should re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing women in the military?

    Because men cannot help but rape women and it’s just too much trouble to collect the DNA and hold them accountable? Because it’s OK if American soldiers rape the women of occupied nations?

  • katwa

    Maybe since it’s the men raping, we should re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing men in the military?

  • kevin-rahe

    Certainly my first point is debatable, as you’ve ably shown.  My second remains quite valid, however.  While I don’t have time to read the 536-page report the story links to, it would be interesting know if the military has a hypothesis as to why the sexual assault rate in the military is at least twice what it is in the civilian population.  If there’s any truth at all to what your ex said about women claiming rape when their pregnancy was actually the result of consensual sex, however, then there are going to be some who will push for access to abortion but be less than enthusiastic about getting to the bottom of the excessive number of sexual assaults.

  • mechashiva

    From the conversations I’ve had with military women who came to the clinic I worked at for abortions (and from some less douchey military men), the claims about “crying rape” are complete bunk (just like they usually are in the civillian world). I really don’t get why you think pro-choicers wouldn’t be interested in getting to the bottom of the rape issue, though. The only organizations I have seen fighting to improve conditions for female soldiers are progressive reproductive health non-profits… which are all pro-choice.

  • squirrely-girl

    … goes to YOU! 

    Umm, perhaps I’m being too logical, but wouldn’t this suggest that perhaps we should re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing women in the military? 

    What, couldn’t find a way to blame them for what they were wearing

     

    You may post some douchey stuff around here, but this statement takes the cake. On so many levels, one of which includes me having actually served my country, I am truly offended. Please don’t try to back peddle on that one either because the hole you’ll dig yourself will require a backhoe to get you out.

     

     

     

  • squirrely-girl

    … if it’s he said – she said, well of course we need to err on the side of believing him. She was probably a total whore sleeping with all teh men folks. And didn’t you know all women are (not so) secretly bewitching Sirens around whom men just can’t be expected to control their sexual urges. I mean… think of it as us protecting teh little womenz. 

     

    //end snark

  • squirrely-girl

     

    the claims about “crying rape” are complete bunk

     

    EXACTLY!

  • crowepps

    Personally, I think we should reevaluate having rapists in the military.  It doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of difference whether they’re raping fellow service members or the civilian population where they’re stationed, they should be booted.