A longer version of this post originally ran as an opinion piece in in U-T San Diego on Nov. 23, 2012. The Senate is currently debating the defense authorization bill, including the language regarding the ban on military insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest.
Call your senators and urge them to protect the Shaheen Amendment that is in the Senate defense bill. You can reach your senators through the US Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
This election season, politicians made many outrageous statements about rape and pregnancy, usually in relation to a woman’s right to choose abortion. To no one’s surprise, these politicians paid for their remarks at the polls.
Nevertheless, these stunningly ignorant statements have forced members of both parties to confront this issue head on. For the most part, they have reaffirmed their belief in abortion as an option for a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Some have correctly referred to the denial of abortion in cases of rape or incest as “extreme” and “radical.”
In spite of this bipartisan consensus, there’s a sizable group of women in our nation who are presently denied coverage for abortion in the case of rape or incest. Under current law, servicewomen and female military dependents are denied insurance coverage for abortion except when the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy. Today, our government tells a servicewoman who decides that she cannot continue a pregnancy caused by rape or incest that she is on her own.
Further magnifying this injustice is the fact that other women who rely on the federal government for their health insurance do receive abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest. Military women, who serve and sacrifice, deserve the same and more.
The law is especially unjust and unfair considering the unsettling history and incidence of sexual assault in all branches of our military, which tends to affect the junior enlisted who are also the least likely to be able to afford the care they may need. It is long past time to right this wrong. Our bravest women should not feel compelled to seek dangerous alternatives after rape because their health plan fails to cover the care they may need.
Thankfully, there are leaders in Congress who will speak up for our servicewomen. Earlier this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to the National Defense Authorization Act that would correct this unjust law. The amendment received bipartisan support from Democratic committee chair Carl Levin and ranking Republican John McCain.
As the Navy’s first female helicopter pilot, I spent much of my career advocating on behalf of women in the military. I am proud to have been one of six plaintiffs in a federal court case that struck down the restrictions on women serving on seagoing Navy vessels and paved the way for women to serve and command, not only aboard ships, but in aircraft squadrons and many other capacities previously denied to them.
My own experience breaking barriers reaffirms my belief that when we fight to ensure our women warriors are being treated fairly, we honor their service. Now as a retired Navy captain, I cannot remain silent while this fundamental inequity affects our women in uniform.
Our servicewomen deserve nothing less than our full support and commitment as they continue to give theirs to our nation.
Oslund served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years and lives in Castro Valley, Calif.