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"There Are No Coat Hangers in Iraq"

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas,
Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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December 16, 2009

(Cross-posted to RH Reality Check.)

In light of ongoing efforts to restrict women’s access to abortion in health care reform, it is sometimes easy to forget that many women already face nearly insurmountable obstacles to obtaining abortion care. This is particularly true for the more than 200,000 servicewomen currently serving in the armed forces, as well as military dependents. These women face not only a funding ban, which prohibits military insurance from covering the cost of any abortion, except for those necessary to save a woman’s life, but a ban on using military facilities, as well: Even if they pay with their own money, and no federal funds are used, servicewomen and dependents cannot obtain abortions in military treatment facilities, unless they disclose that the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

A recent article by Kathryn Joyce, Military Abortion Ban: Female Soldiers Not Protected by Constitution They Defend, which tells the story of a marine named Amy*, puts the plight of military women into stunning focus. Amy was stationed in Fallujah when she realized she was pregnant. Fearful of being ostracized by her male comrades, Amy did not report that her pregnancy was the result of rape. But after her attempt at a self-abortion, using herbs she purchased over the Internet and a sanitized cleaning rod for her rifle, went horribly wrong, she finally went to a military hospital. Shortly thereafter, she was charged under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for having violated the prohibition on having sex in a war zone. She was fined $500 and given a suspended rank reduction.

Most of us think that unsafe and illegal abortions, at least for American women, have been relegated to the pre-Roe era. But this is not so for the hundreds of thousands of women who have volunteered to serve in our military, and for the wives and daughters of soldiers stationed abroad. As the debates over health care continue, we will likely hear about lawmakers’ efforts to maintain the “status quo” when it comes to abortion funding. We would do well to remember what this “status quo” all-too often looks like.

*not her real name

The ACLU is interested in hearing from servicewomen, military dependants, and their health care providers about difficulties accessing abortion due to military policies. If you have any information, or would like to share your story with us, please contact us at or 212-549-2633, or write to us at Reproductive Freedom Project, 125 Broad St, 18th Fl., New York, NY, 10004. Any information you provide will be treated as confidential.

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