Defending the Rights of the Women Who Defend Us

Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

Today, Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Robert D. Andrews (D-N.J.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) stood up for U.S. servicewomen, and submitted an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would end the unconscionable policy of denying rape survivors serving in the military health coverage for abortion care. The all-powerful House of Representatives Committee on Rules will decide this week whether this amendment — protecting the health and rights of U.S. servicewomen — deserves to get a vote.

Sexual assault in the armed services is at crisis levels. Tragically, we see story after story of servicewomen being attacked by their own colleagues. In the fiscal year 2010, according to the Department of Defense, 3,158 military sexual assaults were reported, many of which were reports of rape. As DOD officials have stated, even “one sexual assault is one too many,” but the above number — which is in the thousands — barely scratches the surface. Most servicewomen who have experienced sexual violence do not report the incident. Researchers estimate that up to one-third of women experience an attempted or completed rape during their military service.

In the face of this epidemic, federal law denies servicewomen and military families coverage for abortion care, even in cases of rape or incest. By contrast, the federal bans on abortion coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid, disabled women enrolled in Medicare, federal employees (other than members of the armed services), women who receive health care through the Indian Health Service, and women in federal prisons, all include exceptions for rape survivors. (The only other coverage restriction that doesn’t include a rape exception is the ban on abortion coverage for another group of women serving our country — those in the Peace Corps.) Even extreme and unprecedented anti-choice bills pending in Congress include exceptions for rape and incest.

Every woman should have the health care coverage she needs, regardless of how she pays for it. At the very least our military women deserve the same access to care as all of the other women who get their health insurance through the federal government.

As Undersecretary of Defense Clifford Stanley stated, “the American public should rightfully expect that when their…daughters raise their right hand to serve our great nation, they do so in a culture and environment where dignity, respect and protection prevail.”

U.S. servicewomen put their lives on the line for us every day. We owe it to them to fight for their dignity and respect their choices. Thank you Reps. Davis, Andrews, DeGette, Maloney, Sanchez and Slaughter for acting to correct this injustice.

Tell your representatives that this important issue deserves a vote — it’s time to defend the rights of the women who defend us.

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  • marc

    Very important issue to take on. Thanks. Although I would say we have to be strategic in our arguments when advocating bodily autonomy for military women.

    As a soldier, my biggest concern here isn’t that women are denied the rights to abortions (although as a feminist, it is my concern). Rather, this is an issue of military readiness.

    We’ve known for a long time that the ability to have full access to abortions is something that is not only healthy for women physically, but also emotionally. Thus, with two wars going on, this is a matter of ensuring our female soldiers are emotionally and physically healthy enough to accomplish the mission.

    This isn’t a matter of pro-choice or pro-life — it’s a matter of ensuring our military readiness. Anyone who stands against giving military women the right to choose what happens to their own bodies and the choices that will put their minds at ease also stands against America’s military and its ability to perform its tasks.

    Perhaps Republicans who claim to be so freedom-loving should cast aside their personal beliefs and start becoming stronger on defense, because the health of our military and nation depends on it.