More than 400,000 women serve in the armed forces and put their safety and lives at risk to preserve and protect our freedom. Yet these women are denied access to the same health care available to the civilians they protect.
Today, federal insurance coverage is only available for abortion care for servicewomen and their families when a woman's life is in danger. Servicewomen and members of military families seeking abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. This is contrary to other federal health insurance programs which are prohibited from providing funding for abortion care, but unlike the military, most contain an exception for pregnancy resulting from rape and incest. The Shaheen Amendment would address this inequity.
Current law forbids military hospitals from providing abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment— even if the woman pays with her own funds. Because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortion care, servicewomen are often forced to choose between taking leave and traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility (if abortion is legal and they are not in a combat zone), having an unsafe procedure, or attempting to self-induce an abortion. The MARCH Act would repeal both bans.
What is the current policy on abortion care for military women and dependents?
There are two bans which impact the ability of service women and military dependents to obtain abortion care. They are codified in 10 USC 1093(a) and 10 USC 1093(b). Read together these two bans limit access to and funding for abortion for military women and dependents as follows:
• Ban on Abortion Services on Military Treatment Facilities:
◦ A military treatment facility will provide abortion care only in three instances: if the pregnancy is a result of rape, if the pregnancy is a result of incest, if the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman.
◦ A servicewoman or dependent seeking an abortion for any reason that does not fall into the three exceptions (i.e. rape, incest, life endangerment) is prohibited from obtaining that care on a military treatment facility even if she pays for it with her own funds.
• Military Insurance Coverage of Abortion:
◦ If a servicewoman or dependent seeks abortion care after rape or incest she must pay out of pocket for that care. DoD funds cannot be used to cover the cost of the abortion.
◦ DoD funds can be used only to pay for an abortion if the life of the pregnant woman is endangered.
When was the ban on insurance coverage of abortion after rape or incest put in place?
This is a brief history of the ban on insurance coverage of abortion care after rape or incest:
• In 1978, Congress passed a DoD appropriations (funding) bill that included coverage of abortion where the woman's life was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or carrying the pregnancy to term would cause severe, and long-lasting physical health damage to the mother.
• In 1979, the "severe and long-lasting" language was removed from the DoD appropriations bill.
• In 1981, Congress removed the provision allowing for coverage (funding) of abortions in cases of rape or incest and allowed DoD funds to be used only "where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term."
• In 1984, Congress put the DoD abortion coverage restriction into permanent law and it is codified at 10 USC § 1093(a).
• In 1999, an amendment was offered in the House Armed Services Committee to the House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to permit abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest. It was adopted by a vote of 11-7. It was later modified to allow coverage for "forcible rape" and ultimately was removed from the final bill by members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
• In 2000, an amendment was again offered in the House Armed Services Committee to allow coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. The Amendment failed by a vote of 29-26.
• In 2004, during consideration of the NDAA, an amendment was offered on the Senate floor that would have allowed DoD to provide insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. The amendment was passed en bloc by unanimous consent, but was later dropped by members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
• In May 2011, several House members offered an amendment to the House NDAA to allow DoD insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. The House Rules Committee rejected the amendment, preventing it from coming to the House floor for debate and a vote.
• In November 2011, during consideration of the NDAA on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and 16 Senate co-sponsors, filed Amendment #1120 to amend current law and allow insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. Unfortunately, the amendment did not come to the floor for a vote.
• On May 24, 2012, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 NDAA offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would reverse the current policy and allow insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. The amendment was adopted by a bipartisan vote of 16-10.
What is the Shaheen Amendment?
On May 24, 2012 the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted, in a bipartisan vote, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would reverse the ban on military insurance coverage of abortion after rape or incest.
Today more than 400,000 women serve in the Armed Forces and defend our nation. Their families and dependents also serve and sacrifice. Yet they are denied insurance coverage of abortion if they become pregnant as a result of rape and incest. Federal law allows service women and military dependents to obtain abortion care in a military facility if they become pregnant after rape or incest but they are made to pay out-of-pocket for abortion care. Federal insurance coverage is only available if the woman's life is endangered by the pregnancy.
This policy is unfair and unjust given the sacrifices of our military women, wives and daughters. Our government provides civilian women, like federal employees, with insurance coverage for abortion in the case of rape and incest and it should provide servicewomen and dependents with the same care. It is a basic matter of fairness.
Will military doctors who oppose abortion be forced to provide them?
No. Claims that military physicians would be forced to provide abortions even if they have a religious or moral objection are absolutely false and, in this circumstance, are misdirected. The Shaheen Amendment is about insurance coverage. Moreover, military policy has long provided conscience protections for those military health care professionals who object to abortion—these protections were in effect even during the brief period when the private funding ban was lifted in 1993-1995 and remain in effect today.
Does our government provide insurance coverage of abortion for other women?
Yes. The federal government provides insurance coverage of abortion for other women who rely on the government for their health care including: federal employees, members of Congress and their dependents, women who rely on Medicaid and Medicare, federal inmates, and Native American women who rely on Indian Health Services.
What is the MARCH Act?
The Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health for Military Women Act (MARCH for Military Women Act) was introduced in the Senate (S. 1925) and in the House (H.R. 2085) in 2011. The bill will fix two serious inequities facing women in the military in need of abortion care.
First, the MARCH Act will allow federal health insurance coverage for abortion to servicewomen and military wives and daughters who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Today, this coverage is only available in cases where the woman's life is endangered; military women, wives and daughters who choose to end a pregnancy caused by rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for care.
Second, the MARCH Act will allow servicewomen and dependents to use their own money to obtain an abortion on a military facility in circumstances other than rape, incest, life endangerment (e.g., where her health is endangered by the pregnancy). Current law forbids military treatment facilities from providing abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment—even if the woman pays with their own funds.