ACLU Decries Congress’s Failure to Make Emergency Contraception Available to Military Women

May 11, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today decried Congress’s failure to support legislation that would have made emergency contraception available at all military health care facilities. In 2002, the Department of Defense removed the safe and effective contraceptive from its Basic Core Formulary, making it much less likely that the drug will be stocked on military bases.

“At a time when we are expecting so much from our women servicemembers, we must do everything we can to meet their basic health care needs,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Making sure that military women can get emergency contraception will go a long way to meeting the important public health goal of reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion.”

In 2002, the Department of Defense recognized the importance of making emergency contraception available to military women when it made the drug available by prescription at military health facilities. However, according to a recent press report, department officials removed, without explanation, the contraceptive from its Basic Core Formulary after only one month.

Yesterday, the ACLU, joined a broad coalition of women in the military, medical professionals, and advocates for women’s health and rights, and sent a joint letter urging members of Congress to support an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122) sponsored by Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Tim Ryan (D-OH). The Michaud-Ryan Amendment would have ensured that emergency contraception was again available by prescription at all military health facilities. Yesterday, the amendment was blocked in a House committee.

The letter pointed out that “increased access to emergency contraception will help meet the needs of those military women who are victims of sexual assault. A 2003 study found that 30 percent of female U.S. military veterans report having been raped or suffered a rape attempt during their military service, and military officials report that there were 2,374 reported cases of sexual assault among service members reported to military criminal investigators last year – a 40 percent increase from 2004.”

In addition to the ACLU, signatories to the letter include: The Miles Foundation, an organization that provides comprehensive services to victims of violence associated with the military, the American Jewish Committee, the National Association for Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

“A military woman facing the tragedy of a sexual assault must not be twice victimized,” Fredrickson said. “Ensuring that she can get emergency contraception will enable her to prevent a pregnancy that could result form an assault; this is the least we can do.”

Major medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association, have all supported making emergency contraception more readily available.

Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning after pill,” prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. This safe and effective birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent if the first dose is taken within days of unprotected intercourse, but it is more effective the sooner it is taken.

A copy of yesterday’s letter is available online at:

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