Despite pervasive sexual assault in the U.S. military, women who become pregnant as a result of rape while serving in the military are denied abortion coverage under their health plans — a policy that will remain in place, the Senate decided on Wednesday.
Under current policy, pregnant women in the military are only able to use their insurance plans to pay for abortions if their lives are at risk. Civilians who work for the government or rely on Medicaid, by contrast, can use their insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape and incest as well. Even rape survivors in federal prisons receive government-funded abortion coverage.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would lift the ban on military insurance coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest, providing military women with reproductive health coverage that is equal in scope to that of civilians. But Senate leadership decided against allowing a vote on the amendment Wednesday, ruling it non-germane. A spokesman for Shaheen said he did not know why the Parliamentarian had made that decision.
“I’m very disappointed that we will not have a chance this week to debate this critical issue,” Shaheen told HuffPost, “but we’ll keep fighting for it as long as we have to.”
Earlier this year, the House Rules Committee blocked a similar Democrat-sponsored amendment from reaching a vote. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said it is unclear exactly why the committee, led by Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), made that decision.
“I think they just don’t want this to come up,” she told HuffPost in May, “so they used a rule to block it.”
Throughout most of the 1970s, military women could use their insurance plans to cover abortion without restrictions. In 1981, Congress banned military abortion coverage in all cases except when a pregnancy endangered the life of the mother, and the measure was codified into permanent law in 1984.
But rape — and rapes resulting in pregnancy — is still a major problem in the U.S. military. In Fiscal Year 2010 alone, more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the military, over a quarter of which were rapes, according to the Department of Defense. (A request for data for FY 2011 was not immediately fulfilled.) And the DOD estimates that about 86 percent of military rapes go unreported.
A woman’s risk of being sexually assaulted doubles when she joins the military, the American Civil Liberties Union calculated in a 2011 fact sheet.
“This policy is fundamentally unfair to the more than 200,000 women serving in our military,” Shaheen said on Wednesday. “They are fighting to protect our rights, and they should have the same rights to reproductive health care as our civilian employees.”
By Laura Bassett