Two high-ranking retired military officers, on behalf of dozens more, spoke out today in support of a provision authored by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would give women in the military the same rights to affordable reproductive health services as the civilians they protect.
"I served in the US Army for more than 30 years. I served as Acting Surgeon General and Commander of the Army Medical Department and was also the 22nd Chief of the Army Nurse Corps," said Retired Army Major General Gale Pollock. "It makes me incredibly angry to know that our servicewomen and military wives and daughters, who all serve and sacrifice for their country, lack the same coverage civilian women have in the wake of a sexual assault. While we appropriately show federal employees, women in prison and women enrolled in Medicaid compassion if they become pregnant as a result of rape, Congress has said to our servicewomen, "You're on your own.' This is wrong."
Pollock joined Retired Army Major General Dennis Laich and Shaheen at a press conference today on Capitol Hill in support of the Shaheen Amendment. The amendment would put Department of Defense rules on abortion in line with other federal policies by giving women in uniform and dependents who are the victims of rape and incest the right to access affordable reproductive healthcare. Under current law, the Department of Defense will only cover a servicewoman's abortion if her life is in danger.
Pollock and Laich are members of the Stand with Servicewomen coalition, which includes more than 130 retired military officials who have spoken up in favor of the Shaheen Amendment.
"From the time I joined the Army in 1971, I was told that my principal job as an officer was to take care of my troops. I'm here today because current law flies in the face of that obligation," Laich said. "By denying coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest to our servicewomen, our military has failed to meet the needs of our troops and their family members. Women serve with courage and distinction in every branch of service. Lifting this ban is not only a matter of basic fairness; it is also a matter of ensuring military readiness."
"This represents a great injustice to the thousands of women serving in our military," Senator Shaheen said. "By repealing this special restriction on the Department of Defense, we are bringing its policy on affordable access to reproductive health in line with the policies that apply to the rest of the federal government. Put simply, this is about equity. It's about doing what's right for our women in uniform and treating them fairly."
Currently there are more than 214,000 women serving in active duty in the military. Those who have been sexually assaulted, especially those posted overseas, can be forced to seek unsafe and unacceptable alternatives to a safe abortion due to the funding ban in current law.
The Shaheen Amendment was included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. It was approved during committee discussion of the bill by a bipartisan vote of 16-10, with the support of both Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ). The NDAA now heads to the full Senate for approval.