Support Our Servicewomen’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

foreground servicewomenOur servicemembers fight and sacrifice to protect our country.  They serve to protect us and our Constitution. It’s a fight and sacrifice for which I am deeply and humbly thankful.
Over the years, we have fought for improvements in the reproductive health care that servicewomen receive while serving in the military. A few years ago, for example, Senator Shaheen was successful in securing a change in the law to ensure that rape and incest survivors who rely on the military for health care have insurance coverage of abortion. Last year, Representative Speier and Senator Shaheen worked hard on passing a provision that ensures that Armed Forces members have comprehensive counseling regarding the full range of birth control methods, including how various methods may be appropriate, or not, given deployment conditions, training schedules, etc.
But more work remains to be done. For example, current law restricts health care personnel from providing abortions at military treatment facilities except when a woman’s life is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. This law means that servicewomen must leave their base in order to get the care they need. So while our servicewomen are fighting to protect our constitutional rights, they are being denied their own constitutional right at their own health care facilities.
Given that women who serve in the military and need abortions in cases beyond rape, incest, or when their life is in danger, are completely denied any coverage of the costs relating to the procedure, this means they face a double whammy of injustice.
Put yourself in the shoes (or boots, as it were) of our servicewomen. She could live on a base that is quite far from an abortion provider. Depending on which state the provider is in, she may have to confront an unprecedented number of laws that restrict her ability to access safe and legal abortion (including requiring multiple provider visits and mandating medically unnecessary procedures). Not only must she overcome these hurdles to care, but she also must secure permission to travel off base for the extended period it will take to get an abortion. And she must do all of this while paying for everything out of pocket (including the costs of the procedure and travel, which could include multiple nights of a hotel stay and related incidentals).
Women stationed abroad may face a similarly fraught situation or even worse. Lacking access to care at her trusted military treatment facility may mean she resorts to substandard or unsafe care, or receiving care from providers she does not know or who do not speak her language. This is not only unfair to our servicewomen, but very dangerous as well.
Our servicewomen deserve to get the care they need from the providers they trust, no matter if they are stationed inside or outside the United States. Given their sacrifice for our country, we owe them more than the current situation, which interferes with the patient-provider relationship, infringes on their rights, and undermines their health and safety.
They deserve better than this. And this law must be changed.
Fortunately, there is movement to do the right thing. Yesterday, in a markup of the national defense bill, Representative Speier, along with Representative Veasey, offered an amendment that would lift the ban on abortion care at military treatment facilities.
And while the amendment failed yesterday, we applaud Representatives Speier, Veasey, Johnson, Tsongas, and Sanchez who spoke in strong support of lifting this harmful ban and all the members who voted to lift the ban. We look forward to continuing this fight until our policies support—rather than undermine—our servicewomen’s critical health care needs.