We are defending a Constitution that doesn’t apply to us. This was a phrase I heard often after I joined the U.S. Army in 2005. At the time, I didn’t realize just how true that would be. I was raped by a fellow soldier when I was stationed in Korea. I found out I was pregnant as a result of the rape when my commander called me into his office one day to charge me with adultery. A doctor at the medical center had told my commander — but not me — that I was pregnant. I hadn’t reported the rape because I was trying to “soldier on” and I didn’t trust my chain of command. This is an environment where women are constantly targeted for various forms of abuse. As it turns out I was not charged, not because I was raped, but because I was divorced.
Then I faced the fact that military health insurance doesn’t allow abortion coverage in cases of rape, and I was unable to have a safe abortion off-base, so I was stuck. I was discharged from the military due to the trauma of the rape and attacks. I flew back home to the U.S. after being discharged from the Army for my own safety and ended up miscarrying.
Earlier this week six members of Congress introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to allow the military health system to cover abortion if a servicewoman is raped. Tuesday night the House of Representatives refused to allow it, but instead allowed more than 150 other amendments to move forward. This means congress will not even hear the option to allow a woman in the military who is raped to have abortion coverage.
If I’d had that option, I would have had a chance to continue my career in the Army. I wanted to go to combat. I was applying to become an officer. Who knows what my military career, and that of countless others, would have been if this were an option for us.
Denying abortion coverage to rape survivors is a serious injustice to those who are honorably serving our country. This is especially true when a woman’s risk of being sexually assaulted more than doubles when she joins the military. Women in the armed forces should have the same quality healthcare access that they would have in the civilian world.
Women who are deployed overseas or to remote areas of the U.S., like Alaska, face an added burden when there are no other safe medical facilities. The military is effectively asking women who serve to completely disregard their health and rights, no matter the circumstances. The blatant sexism and lack of accountability in the military has created environment in which women are treated as if they are less than men.
When it comes to health, women in the armed forces should have the same rights and access to services that they would have if they were civilians. This is not about personal views of morality. This is about taking care of our troops and their overall well-being. Congress should support military women bravely serving this country. Our elected leaders should not deny military women access to the same care available to the civilian population we protect.
Jessica Kenyon served in the U.S. Army and is the founder of BenefitingVeterans.org and MilitarySexualTrauma.org, two online support networks. She currently lives in Pennsylvania.
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