Servicewomen have committed their lives to the defense of our Constitution, but our own government is denying them their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Servicewomen and dependents of servicemembers are currently prohibited from receiving abortion care at military hospitals except in cases where the woman’s life is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Practically, this law could mean that a servicewoman is unable to get an abortion.
Some members of Congress tried to restore our brave servicewomen’s constitutional rights. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have repealed this unfair ban. Disappointingly, Senator Shaheen’s amendment did not get a floor vote.
The Current Ban Denies Servicewomen and Dependents of Servicemembers the Care They Need
Servicewomen stationed both within and outside of the US face many barriers to receiving safe reproductive healthcare. In some locations, a military hospital is the only safe and reliable facility for healthcare. And in other locations, abortion services off-base may be unavailable or even illegal, leaving a servicewoman serving in these locations with no options.
Even if a servicewoman is able to find a provider, she may be forced to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to access that provider. Servicemembers, even those serving in the US, have restricted freedom of travel. This means that a woman stationed in a rural area may not be able to access an abortion provider that is outside the allowed travel boundaries.
Furthermore, many states have numerous restrictions on the ability of women to get abortion care. A restriction such as a waiting period between an initial appointment and the actual procedure (some of which require 72 hours not counting weekends and holidays between these appointments) would mean that a servicewoman seeking care would have to take time off and travel long distances to a provider not just once, but twice. Thus, the military facilities ban ensures that many servicewomen will have virtually no access to the care she wants and needs.
The Current Ban Forces a Servicewoman Seeking Care to Compromise Her Privacy and Dignity
Even if a servicewoman is able to travel to a provider, she may have to inform her commander in order to leave the base. This compromises her privacy and potentially her dignity if her commander is hostile. A woman in the military, just like a civilian, seeks abortion care for a variety of reasons — it is not the right time for their families, they desire to finish their careers, or there may be medical reasons to end the pregnancy. Whatever the reason, servicewomen have the right to seek care without the loss of privacy and dignity.
It’s Time to Stand Up for the Rights of Our Servicewomen
Servicewomen deserve to enjoy the constitutional rights they serve so bravely to protect. It is long past time to stand up for the rights of our servicewomen and ensure that they have access to the safe care that they want and need.