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A Battle That Servicewomen and Military Dependents Should Not Have to Fight: Access to Contraception

Women serving in the military and dependents of active duty military personnel who serve and support our country deserve high-quality health care that meets their health needs.  Unfortunately, that is not the case when it comes to birth control.

Access to contraception is critical to servicemembers. There are more than 200,000 women serving in the Armed Forces or in the Selected Reserve, as well as an additional 1.1 million female spouses and dependents of active duty military personnel who rely on the military for health coverage. But this coverage is falling short in meeting their family planning needs, contributing to unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies interfere with servicewomen’s ability to complete their missions, since pregnant women cannot deploy and must be evacuated from war zones.

Senator Shaheen and Representative Speier have just introduced legislation, the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2017, that would address some of the key barriers servicemembers face in accessing birth control.

The bill removes cost-sharing for all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved methods of contraception and contraception care, sterilization, procedures, and education.  This helps to ensure that women receiving coverage through military health insurance have the same birth control coverage as federal employees and those who rely on private insurance coverage.

The bill also promotes better access to emergency contraception (EC) for servicewomen, which is a method of contraception that prevents pregnancy if taken within a specified window of time after unprotected sex, birth control failure, or sexual assault.  Timely access to EC is particularly important for servicewomen on active duty, who report rates of unwanted sexual contact at approximately 16 times higher than those of the comparable general population of women in the United States.  DOD regulations already require that health care providers at Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) provide survivors of sexual assault with information about EC.  The Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2017 ensures that this requirement is included in the statute, and also requires MTFs to offer EC to a sexual assault survivor upon her request.

Finally, the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2017 builds upon provisions previously championed by Senator Shaheen and Representative Speier that were included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 that ensure women servicemembers receive comprehensive counseling on the full range of contraceptive methods. This bill establishes a uniform standard curriculum to be used in education programs on family planning for all members of the Armed Forces. This includes information on the full range of contraceptive methods, as well as information about the prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the positive impact family planning can have on health and readiness of the Armed Forces, the right to confidentiality, and other medically-accurate information that will help all servicemembers make informed decisions.

Women servicemembers and dependents should not have to fight for access to the family planning services that they deserve and need—that’s why we support the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2017.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.