Military women who have been raped will finally have insurance coverage for an abortion

Good news! Looks like Senator Shaheen’s amendment expanding abortion coverage for women in the military is going to pass:

A bipartisan conference committee of House and Senate members approved an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill on Tuesday that will extend the insurance coverage of abortion to military women who have been raped.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) amendment to the defense bill lifts a decades-long ban on abortion coverage for military rape victims. Since 1981, military women have not had the same level of health coverage that civilian employees, Medicaid recipients, and even federal prisoners receive from their government-issued insurance plans. High-profile supporters of the amendment include former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The House is expected to approve the final version this week. This is great news–and certainly long overdue. But let’s just note what an absurdly small step towards true access to comprehensive reproductive health care it really is. Currently, the military’s insurance only covers abortion if the woman’s life was in danger. Now, it will also cover it in cases of rape and incest. This is progress because the status quo is so shitty.

To be sure, it’s a crucially important change–especially considering the high rates of sexual assault faced by servicewomen. But unintended pregnancy rates are high in the military, and the vast majority of servicewomen who need abortions–like their civilian counterparts who work for the federal government or low-income women who rely on Medicaid–will still be forced to pay out-of-pocket. Just because for decades we’ve apparently decided that we’d rather let those women fend for themselves than listen to whining about “taxpayer-funded abortions!” from a bunch of anti-choice bullies who’ve learned that if they’re just loud enough they can get away with forcing their morals on everyone else.

In pushing for the amendment, Colin Powell said, “At the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as civilian women who rely on the federal government for their health care.” Yes, this is truly the very, very least we can do.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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