As the granddaughter of a retired brigadier general, I understand the power of Veterans Day and its importance to the men and women who serve our country. Grandpa passed away a couple of years ago, and I always think of him around this time of year.
But lately, he’s been on my mind even more as the Senate decides whether to take up this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3454) (NDAA). The NDAA is the only authorization bill that has consistently passed both chambers of Congress and been signed into law every year since 1952, largely because it contains provisions affecting military pay and other measures that support our troops.
This year, it is also a vehicle for two tremendous civil rights provisions. Grandpa was passionate about politics, and he cared about the NDAA because he cared about our service members, but he would have been particularly interested in this year’s NDAA because of its civil rights provisions. The bill would overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the discriminatory policy that has abruptly ended the military careers of over 14,000 qualified and committed service members since 1994 and weakens the safety and security of other members of the armed forces and the overall U.S. mission.
Additionally, this year’s NDAA would repeal the ban on privately-funded abortions on military bases overseas.
Because of to the ban, women who are stationed overseas who need abortions are forced either to attempt to obtain care in a local medical facility in the country in which they are stationed, or to travel to a medical facility in the United States or in another country. Even in countries where abortion is legal, local health facilities are sometimes inadequate, unsafe or lack trained medical personnel. Some U.S. military bases are located in remote areas without access to local medical facilities. Some military personnel are serving in an area with active hostilities. Furthermore, servicewomen who must travel to obtain abortion care (either in local facilities or back in the United States) are required to clear the leave time with their superiors, forcing them to disclose information about private medical decisions. The superior officer may delay or refuse to grant a woman leave even though each week of delay increases the potential risk to the woman’s health. The current policy compromises the health, safety and dignity of service women and military dependents, and it needs to end this year.
Overturning these two unjust and unfair policies seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s never that easy with Congress. Rumor has it that some senators want to remove the provisions repealing the ban on privately-funded abortions on military bases and ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell from the NDAA because that’s the quick and easy thing to do. Congress is staring down the historic opportunity to overturn both policies by passing S. 3454, and the Senate is about to blink.
At a time when service members willingly put their lives at risk to preserve our rights and freedom, it is appalling that lesbian, gay and bisexual service members are forced to hide and deny their very selves and that service women aren’t allowed to use their own private funds to access safe, legal abortion care on military medical facilities when they serve abroad.