Candidates should back abortion care for military women

ADVERTISEMENT
Currently, government-sponsored health insurance, including Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, cover abortion services when the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life, and when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. However, the Department of Defense doesn’t do the same for its female service members. Military-sponsored government health insurance, known as Tricare, only covers abortion in cases of life endangerment. If one of the 214,000 women actively serving in the military is raped and wants an abortion, she must pay for it on her own dime.


As a simple point of fairness, it is not right that the federal government covers abortion care in cases of rape for Medicaid recipients and civilian federal employees, but not for our female service members. These women, who put their lives on the line to defend our country, should be deemed worthy of the same health care coverage afforded to others through government-sponsored insurance. They should be provided with the same choices when it comes to their reproductive health.

The issue of choice is particularly important for the military considering its challenges in addressing rape. According to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, 471 service members were raped during 2011. Most of these were perpetrated against women in their early 20’s who are enlisted in junior grades. The actual number may be significantly higher. The same office says that several barriers to reporting still exist, and estimates that 86% of sexual assault cases are not reported. Further, it is estimated that several hundred of these resulted in unwanted pregnancy. Don’t these women deserve the same access to abortion services as that afforded to other federal employees?

This past summer, Senator Jeanne Shaheen proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to remove the ban on military insurance coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest. The Shaheen Amendment is a step in the right direction. Restoring equal health care access and coverage to our troops is something that every American – and both presidential candidates – should stand behind. The willingness of our female troops to sacrifice their own lives should not disbar them from making the same life decisions afforded to those they defend. The women fighting for this country deserve the respect, fairness, and equality that America represents.

Henderson is a doctoral student of public health at the University of California, Berkeley.