Letter from Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy to Senate


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Letter to Senate on Abortion Ban for Women in the Military

The Honorable Olympia Snowe
United States Senate
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Patty Murray
United States Senate
173 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senators Snowe and Murray:

I am writing to express my support of your efforts to amend the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 to ensure that servicewomen and military dependents stationed overseas have the ability to obtain abortion services in U.S. military medical facilities using their own, private funds.

The importance of access to abortions for military women has not been discussed in public media very often, since many of the issues that relate to non-military women also are a part of the social and medical environment of military women. However, some distinctions do exist, making it imperative that our soldiers have access to safe, confidential abortion services at U.S. military hospitals overseas. Let me just relate an experience of one of my soldiers about 15 years ago.

I was a battalion commander of an intelligence battalion in Augsburg, Germany, from 1986 until 1988. One day a non commissioned officer (NCO), who was one of the battalion’s senior women, came into my office and asked for permission to take a day off later in the week and to have the same day off for a young soldier in the battalion. She said the soldier was pregnant and wanted an abortion – yet had no way to have an abortion at the U.S. Army medical facility in Augsburg. She had gotten information about a German clinic in another city, and they were going there for the procedure. The soldier did not have enough money to return to the USA for the abortion. Further, she did not want to have to tell her predicament to her chain of command in order to get the time and other assistance to go to the States. I told the NCO to go with her and to let me know when they had returned.

Later the NCO told me that the experience had been both mortifying and painful….no pain killer of any sort was administered for the procedure, the modesty of this soldier and the other women at the clinic had been violated (due to different cultural expectations about nudity), and neither she nor the soldier understood German, and the instructions were given in almost unintelligible English. I believe that they were able to get some follow up care for the soldier at the U.S. Army medical facility. But it was a searing experience for all of us – that in a very vulnerable time, this American who was serving her country overseas could not count on the Army to give her the care she needed.

During that same time frame, and in the early 1990’s when I was a brigade commander of an intelligence brigade in Hawaii, I noticed that there were Army doctors who displayed posters which were extremely disapproving of abortion….creating a climate of intimidation for anyone who might want to discuss what is a legal option. Since the doctors are officers and far out-rank enlisted soldiers, and since the soldiers have no way to choose which doctor they see on sick call, it was only with good luck that a young soldier might be seen by someone who would treat her decision with the respect she deserved.

What makes the situation of a soldier different from that of a civilian woman? She is subject to the orders of the officers appointed over her. Every hour of her day belongs to the U.S. Army, and she must have her seniors’ permission to leave her place of duty. She makes very low pay and so relies on the help of friends and family to pay for travel for medical care that is not given by the Army.

Of all the reasons we lose soldiers from their place of duty (for training, injuries, temporary duty elsewhere, and other reasons), pregnancy accounts for only 6% of all reasons for soldier absence. Yet, this feature of women (that they sometimes become pregnant) is often cited as an attribute that makes them less desirable as soldiers. While I believe that the difficult decision to end a pregnancy should be completely individual, the institution cannot have it both ways: to deny women safe and reasonable access to abortion (in a world in which there is no 100% effective birth control), and at the same time to complain that women are pregnant.

I commend your efforts to remove this irrational and harmful barrier to the health and well-being of our soldiers serving America.

Very truly yours,

Claudia J. Kennedy
Lieutenant General, United States Army (retired)