August 4, 2014 — Women serving in active duty in the military face substantial barriers to reproductive health care services through the military's health system, according to a new Center for American Progress report, the Navy Times reports.
The report found disparities between services for civilians and those for servicewomen, including access to emergency contraception, other medications and abortion. The report also identified stigma and sexism within military health policies and on the job.
Further, the report noted that rates of sexually transmitted infections among active-duty women are seven times higher than among civilians. Meanwhile, 10% of active-duty women become pregnant each year, with more than half of the pregnancies unintended. The researchers wrote that the unintended pregnancy rate suggests that "accessing appropriate contraception is a real obstacle," contrary to the belief "that service women are irresponsible."
For example, the military's TRICARE insurance program covers sterilization, some birth control pills, diaphragms and intrauterine devices, but it does not cover other common methods like vaginal rings or the Depo-Provera shot. In a survey of servicewomen, 41% said they faced difficulties getting prescriptions for birth control filled while deployed and 50% said they felt uncomfortable accessing care in such settings.
Meanwhile, abortion coverage is only available for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or if a woman's life is in danger. The lack of coverage can lead to financial hardship, productivity loss and loss of unit cohesion if women are forced to leave their commands, according to the Times.
The report called for lifting the ban on abortion coverage in TRICARE and for allowing women to obtain the procedure at military treatment facilities in all circumstances. It also urged Congress to pass legislation that mandates that the Department of Defense ensures sufficient care for women who have been sexually assaulted.
In addition, the report recommended that DOD provide support to pregnant servicewomen, as well as provide timely and adequate access to gynecological care and contraceptives (Kime, Navy Times, 7/30).