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Facts vs. Fiction on the Military’s Abortion Ban

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June 10, 2010

The Washington Times published an article Tuesday on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s recent move to repeal a ban on private funding for abortions on military bases. The story contained several misleading and unfortunate claims from anti-abortion members of Congress. The paper then followed up that article with an editorial today in which the paper itself that takes many of those claims to a new level.

First, some background: The ban on abortions in military facilities was first put into place in 1988 with an internal Department of Defense memorandum and then was signed into law by President Bush the same year. In 1993, President Bill Clinton reversed the policy by executive order, but Congress intervened two years later to codify and reinstate the ban. The current ban does not allow women to obtain abortions on military bases even if they pay with their own money, and only permits it if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or if the woman’s life is at risk. However, many women are afraid to say they have been raped for fear of reprisal from their unit.

Even when stationed in countries where abortion is legal, servicewomen frequently do not have access to abortions for a number of reasons, including lack of adequate local health facilities, lack of trained medical personnel or being stationed in remote or hostile areas. Additionally, women who travel for abortions must ask their commanding officer for permission to travel and detail the reasons for leaving the base. While the Washington Times editorial board may think they know what is best for all pregnant servicewomen and their families, a servicewoman facing an unintended pregnancy should have the same rights and opportunities to make the right decision for her circumstances as the rest of us.

The amendment passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee (attached to the National Defense Authorization Act and introduced by Sen. Roland Burris [D-Ill.]), would simply repeal the dangerous ban on abortions in military facilities and allow U.S servicewomen to use their own money to get the health care they need. Contrary to what the members in Congress interviewed in Tuesday’s Washington Times story claimed, the amendment would not require the Department of Defense to pay for abortion services. (The amendment would also allow health care professionals a right to refuse to perform an abortion.)

Comprehensive medical care should not be denied to any member of our armed services, including those stationed far from home. We must no longer prohibit our women in uniform from exercising their fundamental right to make health care decisions for themselves simply because of their military service and where they have been stationed.