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, Congress has treated them as second-class citizens.
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.
This ban is particularly galling because servicewomen are especially vulnerable to sexual assault. Despite the Department of Defense’s efforts, sexual assault in the military persists. Reporting an assault is difficult enough and should a woman become pregnant as a result of rape, she should be able to obtain the same care available to civilian women who rely on the government for their health care needs.
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.
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 servicewomen 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.
The MARCH for Military Women Act (S. 1214/H.R. 2085)
The ACLU applauds the introduction of the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health (MARCH) for Military Women Act. The legislation provides our military women, who serve and sacrifice, with the same access to abortion care that civilian women receive. The bill would (1) provide coverage (funding) for abortion in cases of rape and incest for servicewomen and dependents who rely on the military health system for their healthcare and (2) it would also lift the current ban on using private funds to pay for abortion on military hospitals.
The MARCH for Military Women Act is a critical and long-overdue bill that should be adopted by Congress without delay.
Our servicewomen promise to support and defend the Constitution and our country. We should promise them, in return, fairness, equal treatment and compassion.