Serving While Female: Military Women Still Stripped of Their Rights


The House passed a stripped down version of the Defense Authorization Bill on Friday, December 17th while the Senate debated its own version which, thanks to anti-choice Senators, excluded a provision which would have given women who serve in the military access to abortion care. The bill also excluded a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell however that was, fortunately, repealed in a stand-alone bill passed by both the House and the Senate. The repeal of DADT will allow gay and lesbian military members to serve, openly, for the first time in 18 years. Military women who become pregnant while serving and wish not to be pregnant will continue to be denied access to a full range of care.

In a statement released Friday, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, had this to say of the failure to pass the bill without the repeal of the military abortion ban:

“It is outrageous that women who are serving honorably in the U.S. military are denied the same access to reproductive health care as women back home. Today the Senate had the opportunity to redress this double standard by allowing servicewomen to use their own private dollars to pay for abortion care while serving in the military. Unfortunately, senators traded off women’s health care for votes for the defense bill — furthering an unacceptable double standard for women serving in the armed forces.

“These brave women who are dedicating their lives to the service of the American people must be treated as the equal citizens they are under the law. Their health care needs are no less important or valid under the law than those of men serving in the military or of the civilian women they are defending. Military women must have access to the health care they need and to which they have a right, including reproductive health care.”

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, in May of this year the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment offered by then-Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) to repeal a law that forbids servicewomen and female military dependents from using their own money for abortion services at overseas military hospitals.

The ban on allowing women who serve our country to access legal care, with their own funds, on military bases has placed an inordinate burden upon our soldiers. If they are serving overseas, in a country where abortion is illegal or where there are numerous restrictions, female soldiers are forced to either access unsafe abortion care or find enough money to travel back to the United States to access care. In addition, this requires requesting time away from their duties and more often than not telling their supervisors why.

Unfortunately, the Senate Committee decided it was against the best interest of United States citizens to allow military women to access safe, legal abortion care.

To be clear, as NARAL Pro-Choice America points out, the repeal of the abortion ban “would not have forced the Department of Defense to pay for abortion services. It would simply lift the current ban on privately funded abortion care at U.S. military facilities overseas.”

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