(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights praised the Senate Armed Services Committee for voting to lift a longtime ban on almost all abortion services at military hospitals and other medical facilities, even when a woman is willing to pay with her own money. Under an amendment to the FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, offered by Senator Roland Burris (D-IL), abortion services could be provided at military facilities as long as a woman pays with private dollars.
"For more than thirty years, Congress has discriminated against women in the military, essentially refusing them even the opportunity to get an abortion when it is their legal right," said Laura MacCleery, Director of Communications and Government Relations for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Every woman deserves access to the full range of reproductive health services - not just a select number of medical services that Congress deems appropriate. Thanks to the Armed Services Committee, today we moved one step closer to ensuring that women in the military can exercise their constitutional right. We strongly urge the full Senate to follow suit."
Currently, more than 100,000 women live on military bases overseas and rely on military hospitals for access to healthcare. Under current law, these women are forced either to attempt to obtain an abortion in a local medical facility in the country in which they are stationed, or travel to the United States or another country. In countries like Iraq and Afghanistan though, abortion is illegal under almost all circumstances. Even in countries where abortion is legal, local health facilities are frequently inadequate, unsafe, or lack trained medical personnel. In addition, military bases may be located in remote areas without access to medical facilities or may be located in an area with active hostilities.
Congress first banned abortion services at military facilities in 1979. That ban included exceptions for life endangerment, rape, incest, or severe health consequences. By 1988, the exceptions had been whittled down to life endangerment, rape and incest and the ban was extended to prohibit servicewomen from using their own money to pay for abortion. President Bill Clinton briefly lifted the ban on private funds by Executive Order in 1993, but Congress reversed the order in 1996. Since then, congressional members have repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to remove the ban.
The defense spending bill before the Armed Services Committee also included an amendment to repeal the "don\'t ask, don\'t tell" policy which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving in the military.