U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) joined Senators Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Patty Murray (D-MI) to introduce legislation this week that would protect the reproductive rights of women in the military. The health coverage currently provided to servicewomen fails to cover abortion -- even in the case of rape or incest, which is different from the policies offered to other women receiving health insurance from the federal government, including Medicare recipients and federal employees not in the military. In addition, servicewomen are not allowed to pay for abortion services with their own funds in military medical facilities, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.
"Women who bravely choose to serve our country in the military shouldn't have to forfeit their rights," Lautenberg said. "When military hospitals fail to provide reproductive health services, women serving in foreign countries are left without access to safe and legal health care. This is unjust treatment for our servicewomen that must be brought to an end."
The "MARCH for Military Women Act (Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health)" would lift the statutory ban that denies U.S. servicewomen coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest, as well as lift the ban that prevents women in the military from using private funds to access abortion services at U.S. military facilities.
While reproductive health care services are severely limited for women in the military, sexual assault in the military remains a significant problem. Department of Defense statistics show that 3,158 sexual assaults were reported in the military in fiscal year 2010, although the number is likely higher due to under-reporting in the military. In fact, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services report estimated that as many as 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.
The "MARCH for Military Women Act" is supported by the Service Women's Action Network, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Abortion Federation, American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Partnership for Women & Families, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the National Women's Law Center.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY-28).