Women in the US military face unfair abortion challenges

A new study shows that women in the US military face unique hurdles when considering abortion, including negative health and emotional consequences resulting from the abortion policy.

“Women performing US military service have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy than civilians, yet the Pentagon does not provide health coverage for abortion, except in limited circumstances,” said Lisa McCormick, an advocate for reproductive freedom. “America is not supporting the troops if we leave them unable to make a perfectly legal and responsible health care decision.”

“Abortion has been legal throughout the United States since it was declared a constitutional right by the US Supreme Court in 1972,” said McCormick.

The experiences among military women with abortion care have received little research attention but a new study examines their plight.

Twenty-one in-depth interviews with servicewomen who had had an abortion during active-duty service in the prior two years were conducted between January 2015 and July 2016 by experts at Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit organization with a mission to improve women’s reproductive autonomy, choices, and health.

“Our research shows that women in the US military face unique hurdles when considering abortion, including negative health and emotional consequences resulting from the abortion policy,” said Kate Grindlay, co-author of the paper. “For some, the policy led to delayed access to services or feeling stressed or alone in the process when they did not have formal military support. Others noted the potential for women receiving substandard care when they are deployed and must seek services on their own.”

Logistical and financial concerns were also raised by women in the study. Servicewomen had to travel to an outside clinic, often located an hour or more away from their base, because military facilities do not perform abortions in most circumstances.

Almost all of the women interviewed paid out of pocket for the procedure, which cost an average of $493. In some of the cases with a higher out-of-pocket cost, the procedure cost represented a full paycheck.

“Whether stationed domestically or overseas, servicewomen can face barriers to accessing abortion care. Many military bases in the United States are located in states with restrictive abortion policies, where servicewomen face the combined impacts of military restrictions and local obstacles to care. Women who are deployed abroad or at sea can face even greater geographic barriers,” said Grindlay.

Most servicewomen in the study believed that the military should provide and cover abortion, reporting that the current exclusion from their health coverage is unfair.

“We don’t always plan to break our leg, but the government still pays to manage and take care of us when that happens,” said one participant in the study.

At the same time, female soldiers also reported apprehension about the military being involved with abortion care, fearing possible negative career impacts and privacy concerns.

McCormick said a number of actions by the Trump administration have reinforced its disdain for women, disregard of proven scientific evidence  and she condemned federal efforts to strip away women’s rights and access to health care.

McCormick said the Department of Health and Human Services’ new strategic plan redefined life as beginning at conception, contradicting the US Supreme Court.

Other examples are Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department moves to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception, among other restrictions.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and President Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening the health and lives of millions across the country by denying women insurance coverage for birth control.

“The weakening of insurance regulations and giving employers power for denying birth control coverage to their workers turn back the clock on health care in this country and threaten the lives of women,” McCormick said.

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