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Military Reproductive Rights Bill Moving Forward


Rep. Louise Slaughter says it is unfair that our servicewomen are denied the right to reproductive care.

CREDIT: Flickr / Official U.S. Air Force

Women in the military seeking abortions may soon have increased access to abortion, thanks to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who have introduced the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health for Military Women Act (The MARCH for Military Women Act).

Currently, the health coverage U.S. servicewomen have doesn’t cover abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. U.S. servicewomen are also not permitted to use their own money to pay for an abortion at a military hospital. Military women stationed abroad are most affected by this regulation, as they would be forced to seek abortion services at foreign hospitals, which may be unsafe, or request permission from a supervisor to leave the country, which forces them to divulge that they are seeking an abortion. Most other American women who receive health care from the government but are not in the service can receive abortions in the case of rape, incest, or to the save the life of the mother.

The MARCH for Military Women Act would give servicewomen coverage for abortion in the case of rape or incest and allow them to use their own funds for abortion at a U.S. military facility.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood are among many organizations that support this legislation. Slaughter says, “As our servicewomen risk their lives defending our country, it is deeply unfair that they are denied the rights of the Constitution that they defend … It’s preposterous and incredibly unjust to the women who serve our country so proudly each day.”

The bill also begins to address a grave problem that many are unaware of: sexual assault in the military has reached near epidemic proportions. The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) reports that 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military last year and that as many as 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces. Ms. Magazine reports,“the rate of sexual assault and rape in the military is at least twice as high as it is among civilians.”

SWAN says that there is a critical need for reproductive rights for servicewomen and is hopeful that the MARCH act will pass.

“Every servicewoman has volunteered to give her life on the battlefield if necessary, but she does not sign up to be raped, tortured, and mistreated by men in uniform,” says SWAN executive director Anu Bhagwati. “The least we can do is support her choice to terminate her pregnancy during the most traumatic period of her life, so she does not have to jeopardize her health in order to find unsafe or unaffordable reproductive health care outside of the military.”

Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.

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