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Debate Over Abortion Coverage for Servicewomen Complicates Defense Spending Bill

Debate Over Abortion Coverage for Servicewomen Complicates Defense Spending Bill

May 30, 2012 — A fight over an amendment to allow some abortion coverage for women in the military is complicating passage of a Department of Defense spending bill and dividing Senate Republicans, the Washington Times reports (Winfield Cunningham, Washington Times, 5/29).

The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved the defense bill after a bipartisan, 16-10 vote to add the amendment, which would require the federal government to cover abortion care for service women in cases of rape and incest. Currently, the military covers abortion care for servicewomen only if their lives are in danger (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/25). The measure was introduced amid heightened concerns over the high rate of sexual assault in the military.

Some Republican supporters of the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), have noted that it mirrors the Hyde Amendment, which limits abortion coverage in most government programs to cases of rape, incest or threats to the woman's life.

Opponents insist that lawmakers should focus more on preventing sexual assault in the first place, rather than expanding abortion coverage. Several antiabortion-rights groups -- including Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony List -- are lobbying against the amendment. The groups contend that a fight over abortion could jeopardize the whole defense bill and delay funding for the U.S. military (Washington Times, 5/29).

The full Senate is expected to consider the bill in June. If approved, lawmakers would have to negotiate to combine the bill with the House-approved version (HR 4310), which does not include the amendment (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/25).