Yesterday, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee stood up for women in the military and voted 16-10 to repeal the ban on private funding of abortion at military hospitals and facilities.
Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) led the charge on behalf of women in the military and courageously offered an amendment to strike a pernicious provision that denied servicewomen the ability to exercise their reproductive freedom even while they risked life and limb to protect our freedoms.
For many years, a woman serving in the United States Armed Forces could use her own private funds to obtain an abortion at a U.S. military medical facility overseas. But in 1988, the Department of Defense took away that right and prohibited servicewomen and military wives and daughters from using private funds to exercise their constitutional right to abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or where the life of the woman is endangered.
Though President Clinton reversed the private funding ban by executive order in 1993, two years later, an anti-choice Congress reimposed it and enshrined it in law.
More than 365,000 women currently serve in the Armed Forces and more than 222,000 have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. At a time when the United States is engaged in wars on two fronts, and servicewomen risk their lives every day to preserve our rights and way of life, it is deeply troubling that these military women are denied access to safe, legal abortion when they serve abroad.
We know that the ban on private funding for abortion on military bases has real and cruel impacts on servicewomen's lives. Here are just a few examples:
- A recent article by Kathryn Joyce, Military Abortion Ban: Female Soldiers Not Protected by Constitution They Defend, tells the story of a Marine named Amy* who was stationed in Fallujah when she realized she was pregnant as a result of rape. Faced with the reality of being ostracized by her male comrades if she reported the rape, Amy did not do so. With no other way to end her pregnancy, the ban left Amy to attempt to self-abort using a cleaning rod from her rifle.
- The wife of an American serviceman in the Philippines discovered her child would be born with fatal birth defects, but was forced to carry her pregnancy to term because she could not afford to fly to Japan on her husband's salary.
- The former head of obstetrics and gynecology at the Subic Bay U.S. Naval Hospital in the Philippines described families spending their life savings to travel to another country for an abortion and an enlisted woman who committed suicide because she could not get an abortion on the base.
These are just a few of the many stories we've heard from the field. It is time to right this wrong. We applaud Sen. Burris and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for taking a major step yesterday to reverse this unjust and dangerous policy.
The women of the Armed Forces deserve our full support. Let's make sure that the rest of Congress and the president ensure that they get it.
* not her real name