War on Women in the Armed Forces

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Amy Laskowske, NWHN Intern
Tue, November 20, 2012


Last week the United National Population Fund (UNFPA) declared voluntary family planning to be a human right!  Currently, an estimated 222 million women have an unmet need for contraception.  Access to family planning methods plays a crucial role to the economic and social stability of individuals, families, and society.  It allows individuals the opportunity to pursue higher education, maintain employment, choose when and how many children they want, and decreases the health risks associated with childbirth and unintended pregnancies. 

When thinking about those of us who would benefit most from family planning, it is easy to picture individuals and families in developing countries where we know there is limited access to family planning resources, contraception, and sex education.  Although there are still many individuals in the U.S. that face barriers to family planning, there is a particular population of women who are, by law, denied the same reproductive freedom as the general population.  Studies have shown that active-duty service women have higher rates of unintended pregnancy and lower reported contraception use, compared to the general population and it is NOT because these women choose to forego their basic human right to family planning.  The healthcare given to servicewomen does not cover abortion and access to emergency contraceptive is limited, therefore, unintended pregnancies can restrict their career progression and thus limit their earning potential.  Even accessing hormonal contraception for menstrual suppression while deployed is challenging because sexual intercourse outside of marriage in the military is prohibited, therefore, women having birth control can actually be used as incriminating evidence!  I wish I were kidding…

The number of women in the armed service has grown substantially over the past decade. More than 200,000 women are serving on active duty, the majority of which are at childbearing age, and numbers are rising.  What is even more startling is that one in three servicewomen have been sexually assaulted compared to one in six women from the general population!  Currently, laws deny service women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest from using their military health insurance to cover abortion care.  What is this saying about freedom?  Senator Jeanne Shaheen and supporters have tackled health care discrimination with the drafting of the Shaheen Amendment which provides reproductive justice for women in the armed forces by lifting the ban to cover abortion care when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and gives servicewomen the same reproductive rights given to the rest of the women in the U.S. (including other government employees).  The fate of this amendment will be debated in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013.

When will we stop putting individual ideology in front of science and provide the brave women fighting for our freedoms access to family planning?  We need to protect our service women from injustice with the same courage they bring to work day in and day out.  After all, family planning is a human right!

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