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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, I rise to speak to a provision that is actually already in this bill, the NDAA authorization bill before us. It is a provision that would provide for reproductive health parity for women in the military.

You know, we talk a lot in this Chamber and in the Armed Services Committee about the service of our men and women in uniform. We talk about their courage in the face of our enemies, we talk about their selflessness as they continually deploy around the world, sometimes uprooting their families and sometimes leaving them behind. We talk about our responsibilities to the men and women who are serving, from the tools they will need to accomplish their missions to the support they have earned when they return home.

I am pleased, as I know we all are, about the growing recognition of the unprecedented contribution our female servicemembers are making to our national defense. There are over 214,000 women serving in our Armed Forces. They make up over 14 percent of our total Armed Forces. Women are flying our F-15 Strike Eagles, Apaches, and Black Hawks. Women are training to be Marine Corps infantry officers and working alongside our special operations units in Afghanistan. Women are an integral part of nearly all of our military operations. Earlier this year the Department of Defense opened 14,000 new positions to women.

When he was asked about the move, Secretary Panetta said, ``Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield.''

The women serving in the U.S. military continue to overcome barriers and strive for new opportunities to serve their country. They have carried on the finest traditions of our military and should make us all very proud.

Yet despite their service, women in the military continue to face discrimination when it comes to reproductive health care. In the United States, women are receiving health care through Medicaid, Medicare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and the Indian Health Service, so all of the Federal health care programs. All have access to the care they need if they face pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Even women incarcerated in Federal prison are protected in the case of rape. Yet right now our women in the military are not granted the same access to abortion services in cases of rape or incest.

To be clear, a general ban on abortion coverage remains for millions of women who receive health care through the Federal Government. However, in nearly all cases, these bans allow for coverage if the life of the mother is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. It is simply unfair that military women continue to be denied such reproductive health care.

Like so many of us in the Chamber, I was so encouraged that during this year's markup of the NDAA, a strong bipartisan majority of my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, including Chair Levin and Ranking Member McCain, supported providing reproductive health parity to our servicewomen.

The NDAA bill before us will finally bring the Department of Defense policy on abortion coverage in line with the policies governing the rest of the Federal Government.

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to work with my colleagues here in the Senate, many of whom are long-time champions on this issue, to ensure that this provision is included during the conference with the House and ultimately signed by the President.

In the end, this is an issue of basic equality. Women serving in our Armed Forces should be able to access the same reproductive health services as the civilians they protect. Access to care should no longer be one of the sacrifices women in the U.S. military are forced to make. Women in the military deserve the best, most comprehensive health care we can provide.

I am encouraged by the bipartisan support this provision has received thus far, and I am hopeful we will see it become law this year. It is way past time, and it is the least we can do for our female servicemembers.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and the ranking member, for your support on this provision.


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