Abortion Effects on Servicewomen
SGM Christian Smith
United States Army Sergeants Major Academy
Mr. Colin Anderson
8 January 2018
The purpose of this paper is to examine the effects of abortion on the female
service member. Restrictive
legislation, servicewomen interviews and a look at service availability
overseas will be the focus of the analysis to see the negative effects of
abortion restrictions on servicewomen.
Abortion Effects on Servicewomen
“The defense of our nation is
a shared responsibility. Women have served in the defense of this land for
years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents,
skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an
astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to
the Persian Gulf and beyond.”
Retired Gen. Gordon R.
Chief of Staff of the Army, 1991-1995
Every day, more and more women
sign up to fight for our country as barriers based solely on someone’s gender
vanishes. These brave women sacrifice so
that others can enjoy basic liberties and rights. Unfortunately, when they give up their
civilian clothes for a uniform, they also so give up some basic human
rights. When it comes to reproductive healthcare,
our servicewomen are not provided the same choices given to their counterparts.
Our servicewomen deserve to
receive unrestricted, unobstructed reproductive-health care. The desire to have ten children or terminate
a pregnancy should not affect the quality of healthcare the servicewomen
receives. When it comes to military
healthcare, choosing abortion severely limits are eliminates the care receive. As a result, the service member has to make
decisions concerning health and job that her counterparts do not. Restrictions on covering abortions creates
emotional and career challenges for service members who become pregnant. Analysis of legislation, a case study and
access to facilities overseas will demonstrate the challenges these women are
There was no formal service
policy on abortions prior to 1970. Abortion services at military medical
facilities were different based on branch of service as well as location. Each of the services approached the issue
differently. Subsequent court rulings
and congressional legislation shaped the current environment that limits the
reproductive rights of servicewomen
Rowe v. Wade
Ever since the Supreme Court’s
decision in Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 there have been several attacks
against a women’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
The Hyde Amendment
In 1976, an amendment was
introduced in Congress to limit the use of federal funds for abortions. The
Hyde Amendment, named for its sponsor, Republican Representative Henry Hyde,
“is a rider to the annual Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS)/Education
appropriations bill which prevents Medicaid and any other programs under these
departments from funding abortions, except in limited cases.”
Harris v. McRae. There were many challenges to
the Hyde Amendment, but in 1980 the Supreme Court affirmed the
constitutionality in the court case Harris v. McRae.” Since the Amendment passed, Congress increasingly
narrowed situations under which federal funding for abortion could be
permitted. 00 Initially, exceptions to the Hyde amendment for rape and incest
were included, but a strong pro-life contingent that entered the Senate after
the 1980 election successfully removed the exceptions for rape and incest Consequently, from 1981 to 1993, the Hyde
Amendment allowed federal funding of abortion only in cases “where the
life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”
In 1993, federal funding was
reinstated for abortions in cases of rape and incest. The exceptions for rape
and incest continue to be included. 104 The Hyde Amendment’s restriction on
federal funding of abortion has mainly affected low-income women who receive
healthcare coverage under the joint federal-state program known as Medicaid.’0o
However, this restriction is also affecting another population of women who
become pregnant unintentionally while serving the U.S. Armed Forces as well as
military family members and dependents who receive their healthcare coverage
through the Department of Defense and Tricare.
Jeanne Shaheen Amendment
In 2012, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sponsored an
amendment to the FY’13 Defense authorization bill to include abortion coverage
under TRICARE in cases of rape or incest. The amendment passed 16-10 in the
Senate Armed Services Committee and was unchallenged when the full Senate considered
the legislation.3 However, the
rest of the ban on abortion coverage for women in the military remains in
Amendment (HR 7)
HR 7, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full
Disclosure Act of 2017”, passed the House of Representatives without
amendment. This bill makes permanent the prohibition
on the use of federal funds, including funds in the budget of the District of
Columbia, for abortion or health coverage that includes abortion. The
prohibitions in this bill, and current prohibitions, do not apply to abortions in cases
of rape or incest, or where a physical condition endangers a woman’s life
unless an abortion is performed.
Abortions may not be provided in a federal health care facility or by a
federal employee. The bill also seeks
to amend the IRS and Affordable Care
Act to prohibit qualified health plans from covering abortions. It will also
prevent premiums attributable to abortion coverage ineligible for subsidies.
Ibis Reproductive Health conducted
interviews with 21 servicewomen ages 19-34 from the Army, Navy, Air Force and
Marine Corps over a two year period. Interviews were conducted
between January 2015 and July 2016 with servicewomen who had an abortion during
active-duty service in the prior two years. Women reported on their experiences
accessing abortion, as well as their knowledge and opinions of the military’s
abortion policy. Servicewomen discussed concerns about negative effects on their
career, privacy and the shame associated with the process. Some reported
feeling upset or abandoned by a system that would not or could not provide the
help and support needed.
The following items were
summarized from the participant’s responses:
1. Service members were surprised to discover the
military could not help them receive an abortion.
2. Pregnancies have serious implications for women’s
careers because some jobs in the military are not open to pregnant women.
3. Several said career
interests were a primary reason for the abortion.
4. The women said support
was not received from supervisors or medical providers.
5. Medical personnel
would not provide a reference to adequate facilities
6. The policy led to
delayed access to services causing feelings of stress
7. The costs were on
average almost $500
8. There are potentially
serious health consequences
9. Out of fear, one service member didn’t tell her
supervisors about her abortion and “wasn’t able to follow the post-op
10. Since service members have to go off base to seek an
abortion, women who are stationed in some parts of the world are not getting
safe medical care.
According to the
researcher, “Most of the women were not even aware of the Department of
Defense’s current abortion policy, which could cause delays in treatment as
they attempted to seek care from facilities that would not provide it or refer
As noted earlier, deployment creates additional challenges for
servicewomen seeking an abortion. Host country laws and medical facilities
effect the level of adequate care the service member can receive; if at
all. Four allied countries were reviewed
to better understand the obstacles facing the servicewomen.
National policy: Abortions are permitted. They must be performed by a
licensed gynecologist in an approved facility.
Local U.S. military policy: Abortion services comparable to those in the
United States are available from Italian providers in the Naples and Sigonella
areas. Service women and family members who desire abortions are referred to
preidentified licensed local providers. Abortions are not performed at military
Since the U.S. ban was lifted: One elective abortion was reportedly
provided in Sigonella at an Italian facility.
National policy: Abortion is legal and fairly unrestricted, but more
expensive than in the United States.
Local U.S. military policy: Given that abortions are readily available in
the Japanese community, women seeking abortion from Navy hospitals here are referred
to family-service counselors for referrals to Japanese doctors. Since the U.S.
ban was lifted: Few, if any, abortions were performed at military hospitals,
Navy officials said. The number of abortions by civilian doctors is unknown.
National policy: Abortion is illegal except to save the life of the
mother. However, it has been noted that
Korean women have not been denied access to medically provided abortion
services despite this law.
Local U.S. military policy: The U.S. military’s rules for Korea could not
be learned from military officials, but because of the local law, abortions
would not be available at U.S. hospitals. However, since Korean women have
access to such services, it is reasonable to infer that such services could
also be available to U.S. service women off-base. Since the U.S. ban was lifted: Service
members or family members continue to have to travel outside of Korea to obtain
Women are a large part of our
military. Their role is vital to the
effectives of our fighting force. They
help to ensure that all enjoy the inalienable right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness. Servicewomen are
fighting for these rights for others as they are stripped of their right to
exercise their reproductive freedoms.
Restricting the rights of anyone is wrong and to restrict a women’s
innate reproductive right is tyrannical.
There has to be changes in our legislation to stop the systematic
removal of the reproductive rights of our female service members. Despite what personal opinions and beliefs
individuals may have with regard to abortion and a woman’s right to choose,
providing good comprehensive healthcare is a most. Servicewomen’s right to receive the same
access to abortion coverage that is available to the civilians they serve and
protect should not be a question.
Leaders recognize that
providing comprehensive health care to service members is essential to mission
accomplishment. Changes to command views about pregnant service members,
elimination of legislation aimed at controlling a women’s body and access to
medical facilities are the things needed to fix this situation. It has been
shown that restrictions on covering abortions creates emotional and career challenges
for service members who become pregnant.
The restrictions must be lifted to empower, promote and enrich our