Lift the Bans: U.S. Servicewomen Denied Essential Abortion Care

Document Date: May 20, 2011

More than 400,000 women serve and sacrifice for their country in the United States Armed Forces. Many more women support our nation as part of military families. Despite their commitment to protecting our freedoms, when it comes to reproductive healthcare, the U.S. government has abandoned them.

The U.S. military provides health coverage for members of the Armed Forces and their families through the Department of Defense’s military health system. By federal statute, however, the Department of Defense is barred from providing coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. The ban provides no exception for cases of rape and incest. Tragically, servicewomen are denied this critical care in an Armed Forces where sexual assault is at crisis levels – when a woman joins the military, her risk of being sexually assaulted doubles.

Further, military women confront an additional barrier to abortion access when serving overseas. In addition to banning military health insurance from covering abortion care, federal law prohibits military treatment facilities from providing abortion services to women even when patients pre-pay the entire cost of the procedure with their own private funds. This second ban, which has a narrow exception for life endangerment, rape, and incest, imposes grave health risks and leaves servicewomen and their families far worse off than civilian women. For example, a servicewoman who is prohibited from accessing abortion services on a military base may have to resort to local facilities in foreign countries that are substandard or unsafe.

In other words, servicewomen and military families are singled out as the one group that Congress has shown the least regard for.

Every woman should have the healthcare coverage she needs. We continue to fight against all bans on insurance coverage for abortion because they are discriminatory and harm women’s health.

However, at the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as the civilians they protect, as well as all of the other women who get their health insurance through the federal government. These soldiers commit their lives to defending our freedoms; we owe it to them – and to ourselves – to treat them with compassion and fight for their dignity.

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