Senate Committee Votes to Increase Overseas Servicewomen’s Access to Abortion

On May 27th the Senate Armed Forces Committee voted to include an amendment in this year’s defense authorization bill that would reverse a ban on using private funds to obtain abortions at U.S. military bases and hospitals (). The amendment was introduced by Senator Ronald Burris (D-IL).

Current policy prohibits servicewomen from obtaining an abortion even if funded privately except in the cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life was endangered. This ban applies to all military bases and hospitals, both domestic and international.The amendment would not allow women to use TRICARE, their military health insurance, to pay for the procedure, only their own funds.

It is unfortunate that servicewomen would still be barred from using their insurance to assuage the costs of an abortion, but the amendment to repeal theban on using private funds would greatly increase servicewomen’s access to the procedure, particularly when stationed overseas. Right now, in order to get a leave of military duty to go off-base and obtain an abortion, women have to disclose private medical information to a superior. And in many countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, abortion is illegal and therefore cannot be sought off-base at all. Even if abortion is legal in the country in which a woman is stationed, there may not be adequate medical facilities or personnel near her base.

U.S. servicewomen were first prohibited from exercising their right to choose in 1988, when the Reagan administration introduced a ban on abortion services except in the case of rape, incest, or the endangerment of the life of the woman at military bases and hospitals. This ban barred servicewomen from obtaining abortions even if the woman’s life was at risk or if the abortion was funded privately. The policy was reversed by President Clinton in 1993 but was later reinstated and codified by Congress.

As we have written before, servicewomen are often denied access to reproductive services that the citizens they serve enjoy. This amendment would affect approximately 100,000 women currently stationed overseas who are currently hindered in seeking a legal medical procedure. While these women cannot use their military insurance to obtain an abortion, the amendment ensures that servicewomen can at least use their private funds to do so. It’s a small step in the right direction.


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