If you’re a member of the U.S. military and you happen to be a woman, you might think you were entitled to the full range of health care allowed your civilian counterparts. But you would be wrong. That’s why Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., crafted an amendment to the National Defense Appropriation Act that would grant, according to the Ms. magazine Web site:
the same rights as civilian women under federal policies that provide affordable abortion care to women who are the victims of rape or incest. Under the current policy, servicewomen are only eligible for abortion care if the woman’s life is at risk.
On Thursday, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the amendment by a 16-10 vote. The measure must next move to the Senate floor, and faces an uncertain future if, as expected, the appropriations bill goes to a joint conference. (The House bill is not expected to include a similar provision.)
Currently, abortions are forbidden to military personnel unless they are victims of
sexual assault rape or the pregnancy endangers their lives. But if the pregnancy is the result of a rape the soldier, sailor or Marine must pay for her own abortion — a cost that can be prohibitive on a military paycheck. And in a war zone, a woman in uniform will likely find no civilian medical professionals available to her who will perform the procedure.
This is all the more galling when one considers the epidemic of sexual assault against military women that continues to grip the armed forces — assaults perpetrated by men who are supposed to be their comrades.
In 2009, reporting for CBS News, Katie Couric delivered this statistic:
One in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military, compared to one in six women in the civilian world.
And the numbers haven’t changed much. Because of the stigma attached to reporting one’s rape by a fellow soldier, it’s not unheard of for a woman made pregnant through rape to try to self abort. (For one account, see Kathryn Joyce’s outstanding 2009 article, “Military Abortion Ban: Female Soldiers Not Protected by Constitution They Defend,” at Religion Dispatches.)
If Congress really wants to show its appreciation to all of our troops, it will pass the appropriations bill with the Shaheen amendment in tact. But with this Congress, whose freshmen claim to love, love them some Constitution, military women will likely learn the limits of the right-wing version of the U.S. Constitution. (Now, what do you need all those rights, for, little lady?)