As an article in Jezebel points out, nearly 500 rapes of female service members were reported last year. That number is probably much lower than the actual number of sexual assaults because the Pentagon estimates that only about 13% of assaults are even reported. Hundreds of those assaults result in unwanted pregnancies, but the women affected aren’t allowed to make use of military health facilities to terminate those pregnancies, even if they are willing to use their own money to cover the cost. Military health insurance only covers abortion to save the life of the mother.
As the law stands now, military health facilities can provide abortions for service members only if the woman’s life is at risk. Pregnancy as a result of rape is not a sufficient reason for the military to either cover the cost of an abortion or even perform the procedure. While this might not seem like a big deal for those of us sitting stateside, we need to remember that many of these cases happen overseas in locations where military health facilities are the only health care option for women; there’s no local Planned Parenthood in Afghanistan. Effectively, a woman raped and impregnated overseas may be forced to carry a pregnancy to term despite never having been giving the choice to consent to the sex that led to the pregnancy in the first place.
One US Senator, Jean Shaheeh (D-NH), is looking to change that by offering language to the Defense Authorization Act to expand access to abortion for service women who have been raped:
This year, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is trying again, with more support than ever before. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved her amendment in May, attaching it to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and Republican Senators John McCain, Scott Brown, and Susan Collins all voted in favor of the measure.
Despite the bipartisan support in the Senate, the amendment is expected to be defeated in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
If you ask me, building in a contingency that allows military doctors to provide abortions to women who became pregnant due to rape is a no-brainer. In fact, doing so would make military health care equivalent to all other federally funded health care which does allow federal funds to pay for abortions in the cases of rape and incest as well as to save the life of the mother. Moreover, I believe it is long past time for the Pentagon to deal with the issue of sexual assaults in the ranks of the US military. Serving our country should require full comprehension that no means no.
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