ACLU Letter to Senate Supporting Women's Health and Reproductive Rights in the Defense Authorization Bill

Support Women's Health and Reproductive Rights In the Fiscal Year 2006 Defense Authorization Bill

Dear Senator:

The American Civil Liberties Union urges you to support two important women's health amendments that may be offered during floor consideration of the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Defense Authorization Bill.

Support an Amendment Ensuring Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care

The ACLU urges you to support a possible amendment that will ensure that all U.S. servicewomen and military dependents, regardless of where they are stationed, have equal access to comprehensive reproductive health care. At a time when we are expecting so much from our military women, it is critical that they have every resource at their disposal to meet their health needs.

Current law prohibits women from obtaining abortion services at U.S. military hospitals, even if they pay for these services with their own private funds. For military women and dependents stationed overseas, this restriction poses grave health risks. Local facilities are often inadequate or entirely unavailable. Traveling to a safe facility can result in delays that may substantially increase the risks of an abortion procedure.

The ban on privately funded abortions also discriminates against women and their families who have volunteered to serve their country and have been assigned to military posts overseas. These women are prohibited from exercising their fundamental constitutional right to choose simply because of their military service and where they have been stationed. In a letter to Congress dated May 7, 1999, the Department of Defense opposed this harmful restriction, emphasizing ""it is unfair to female service members, particularly those assigned to overseas locations, to be denied their constitutional right to the full range of reproductive health care.""

Retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the United States Army, has spoken out again this ban, explaining that it is ""imperative that our soldiers have access to safe, confidential abortion services at U.S. military hospitals overseas."" General Kennedy noted that a soldier's situation is ""different from that of a civilian woman"" because ""she is subject to the orders of the officers appointed over her. Every hour of her day belongs to the U.S. Army and she must have her seniors' permission to leave her place of duty."" These factors make it extremely difficult for military women to access abortion services off base. For all of these reasons, the ban on privately funded abortions should be repealed.

Support an Amendment Repealing the Current Ban on Federal Funding of Abortions for Female Service Members and Dependents Who are Victims of Rape or Incest

The ACLU urges you to support a possible amendment that would repeal the current ban on federal funding of abortions for female service members and dependents that are victims of rape or incest. Although other federal programs mandate federal funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or pregnancies that endanger a woman's life, public funding is permitted for female service members and dependents only in cases of life endangerment. Thus, passage of this amendment would merely bring DoD's policy in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid. Our military women deserve no less.

Unfortunately, as recent events demonstrate, rape in the military is more common than was previously understood. Recent statistics from the Department of Defense indicate that between three and six percent of active-duty women in the military report having been sexually assaulted and a 2003 study found that 30 percent of female U.S. military veterans report having been raped or suffered a rape attempt during their military service. For military women facing the tragedy of a sexual assault, a resulting pregnancy is a further blow. At a minimum, these women should be able to receive timely medical treatment, including abortion, if they choose. The current funding ban acts as a barrier that may prohibit women from seeking the medical services they need or force them to delay care. It should be repealed.

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The ACLU urges you to support these important amendments central to our military women's reproductive rights and health. Our military women deserve no less at this critical time.


Gregory T. Nojeim
Acting Director


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