Serving Those Who Serve? Restrictions on abortion access for servicemembers, veterans, and their dependents

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Servicemembers, veterans & their families face abortion bans and prohibitions on insurance coverage when trying to access these legal medical services. This issue brief addresses the unique barriers individuals insured under the military health insurance program (TRICARE) or obtaining healthcare through the Veterans Health Association face in accessing abortion services, including the many institutional, financial and logistical barriers they must overcome.

Federal law prohibits the Department of Defense from providing abortion services at military treatment facilities, and the TRICARE insurance program from covering such services, except when a pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant person is at risk. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which provides health services to veterans, does not provide or pay for abortion services under any circumstances.

“I am a member of the armed forces currently serving in Afghanistan. I am here with my husband and was unaware that the pills I take to prevent malaria can counteract my birth control pills. My husband is as shocked as I am. We do not want a child now; we have a job to do here. Due to the military’s no-abortion policy, I am pretty desperate. It isn’t like you can even go off base here, and you can’t just say you need medical leave without saying why.”

“I found out I was pregnant in the months leading up to my deployment and didn’t feel comfortable telling my doctor or chain of command for fear of retribution. I took a day of liberty after finally talking to my chief about it, he was nice but it was incredibly uncomfortable and later on he told the entire chiefs’ mess about it.” 

This issue brief, developed in collaboration with the Service Women’s Action Network, is the first part of a series on reproductive health care access for servicemembers, veterans and their families. The second brief addresses access to contraception. The third brief addresses access to access to infertility care, including IVF coverage and services.