June 8, 2011 — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) recently introduced legislation (H.R. 2085) -- the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health (MARCH) for Military Women Act -- that would allow servicewomen to use private funds to obtain abortion care at military health facilities and lift the ban that denies U.S. servicewomen and dependents insurance coverage for abortion services in cases of rape or incest, the Washington Independent reports.
Under a policy first put in place during the Reagan administration, the provision of abortion services is prohibited at Department of Defense facilities, even if women use their own money to pay for the procedure. As a result, servicewomen must use local facilities or request combat leave to travel out of the country for abortion care (Resnick, Washington Independent, 6/7). In countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, there are no local facilities where women can obtain safe abortion care, according to Gillibrand spokesperson Bethany Lesser (Tumulty, Air Force Times/USA Today, 6/6).
The legislation also would amend the statutory restriction on insurance coverage of abortion for military personnel that currently only allows exceptions for coverage in cases of life endangerment, so that women also would have coverage in cases of rape or incest (Washington Independent, 6/7). More than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the military in 2010, though an estimated 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, according to a report by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in Military Services.
Other federal employees and women who receive care through Medicare and the Indian Health Service receive abortion coverage for cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. "It is an outrage that the women in our military do not have the same basic protections for reproductive health care as women across the U.S.," Gillibrand said, adding, "We must put an end to this egregious injustice and allow our women in uniform to exercise their right to reproductive health care" (Fox News, 6/6).
Slaughter said, "Imagine being a victim of rape on a United States military base overseas being denied the abortion coverage, and then having to turn to a potentially unsafe local facility." She added, "It's preposterous and incredibly unjust to the women who serve our country so proudly each day" (Washington Independent, 6/7).
Future of Bill
Gillibrand hopes to add this year's measure to the fiscal year 2012 Defense authorization bill, her spokesperson said (Air Force Times/USA Today, 6/6). The measure has 39 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee (Washington Independent, 6/7).
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Women's Law Center, Planned Parenthood and the Service Women's Action Network have endorsed the resolution.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List, said the measure would "turn military facilities into abortion clinics" (Fox News, 6/6).