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Abortion Restrictions Effect On Servicewomen   

SGM Christian Smith
United States Army Sergeants Major Academy
Class 44B
Mr. Colin Anderson
8 January 2018

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Women have served in the military with distinct and honor from the moment they
took up arms to defend this country. They protect the rights and liberties of
all American.  Unfortunately,
servicewomen lose their reproductive rights when they choose to serve in the
military.  The purpose of this paper is
to examine the effects of abortion on the female service member.  Restrictive legislation, servicewomen
interviews and a look at service availability overseas will be the focus of
the analysis to see the negative effects of abortion restrictions on


Abortion Effects on Servicewomen

“The defense of our nation is
a shared responsibility. Women have served in the defense of this land for
years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents,
skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an
astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to
the Persian Gulf and beyond.”

Retired Gen. Gordon R.

Chief of Staff of the Army, 1991-1995


Every day, more and more women
sign up to fight for our country as barriers based solely on someone’s gender
vanishes.  These brave women sacrifice so
that others can enjoy basic liberties and rights.  Unfortunately, when they give up their
civilian clothes for a uniform, they also so give up some basic human
rights.  When it comes to reproductive healthcare,
our servicewomen are not provided the same choices given to their counterparts.

Our servicewomen deserve to
receive unrestricted, unobstructed reproductive-health care.  The desire to have ten children or terminate
a pregnancy should not affect the quality of healthcare the servicewomen
receives.  When it comes to military
healthcare, choosing abortion severely limits are eliminates the care receive.  As a result, the service member has to make
decisions concerning health and job that her counterparts do not.  Restrictions on covering abortions creates
emotional and career challenges for service members who become pregnant.  Analysis of legislation, a case study and
access to facilities overseas will demonstrate the challenges these women are


There was no formal military
policy on abortions prior to 1970. 1 Abortion services at military medical
facilities were different based on branch of service as well as location.  Each of the services approached the issue
differently.  Subsequent court rulings
and congressional legislation shaped the current environment that limits the
reproductive rights of servicewomen

Rowe v. Wade

Rowe v. Wade was a landmark Supreme
Court decision in 1973 that confirmed a women’s right to privacy under the 14th
Amendment.  Ever since the 1973 decision,
legislators and activist attempted to overturn the ruling.  As those attempts failed, the focus switched to
restricting and criminalizing abortion activities.

The Hyde Amendment

In 1976, an amendment was
introduced in Congress to limit the use of federal funds for abortions. The
Hyde Amendment, named for its sponsor, Republican Representative Henry Hyde,
“is a rider to the annual Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS)/Education
appropriations bill which prevents Medicaid and any other programs under these
departments from funding abortions, except in limited cases.” 2

Harris v. McRae. The Harris v, McRae case was instrumental
in the longevity of the Hyde Amendment.  The
Hyde Amendment was challenged several time before this, but in 1980 the Supreme
Court affirmed its constitutionality.  Harris
v. McRae gave Congress the confidence to increasingly narrow conditions that
allowed federal funding to be used for abortions.  Initially, exceptions to the Hyde amendment
for rape and incest were included, but a strong pro-life contingent that
entered the Senate after the 1980 election successfully removed the exceptions
for rape and incest.2  Therefore, federal
funding was allowed for abortions until 1993, if the life of the mother would
be endangered by carrying the fetus to term.

1993 Reinstatement. In 1993, federal funding was
reinstated for abortions in cases of rape and incest. The exceptions for rape
and incest continued to be included. The Hyde Amendment’s restriction on
federal funding of abortion has had a profound effect on women who use Medicaid.  A group of women affected by this are women
who become pregnant unintentionally while serving the U.S. Armed Forces.  Tricare, the Department of Defense healthcare
insurer, covers Service members, their family members and dependents.  The restrictions imposed be the Hyde
Amendment prevents these groups from utilizing abortion services.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Amendment

In 2012, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
(D-NH) sponsored an amendment to the FY’13 Defense authorization bill to
include abortion coverage under TRICARE in cases of rape or incest. The
amendment passed 16-10 in the Senate Armed Services Committee and was
unchallenged when the full Senate considered the legislation.3   Although the clause for rape and incest was
added no additional restrictions were loosened. 
As of today, there are supplementary seeking to reverse the gains
receive from Sen. Shaheen’s Amendment.

Current Amendment (HR 7)

HR 7, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full
Disclosure Act of 2017”, passed the House of Representatives in 2017 and now
sits in Senate committee.  This bill makes permanent the prohibition
on the use of federal funds, including funds in the budget of the District of
Columbia, for abortion or health coverage that includes abortion. 4 The bill permits abortions in cases
of rape or incest, or where a physical condition endangers the woman’s life.  It also continues to restrict abortions in
federal health care facilities or by a federal healthcare employees.  Additionally, the bill seeks to prohibit qualified healthcare plans from
covering abortions by withholding federal subsidies for premiums tied to
abortion coverage for women.

Case Study

Ibis Reproductive Health conducted
interviews with 21 servicewomen ages 19-34 from the Army, Navy, Air Force and
Marine Corps over a two year period.  Interviews were conducted
between January 2015 and July 2016 with servicewomen who had an abortion during
active-duty service in the prior two years. Women reported on their experiences
accessing abortion services, as well as their knowledge and opinions of the
military’s abortion policy.5 Servicewomen discussed concerns about negative effects
on their career, privacy and the shame associated with the process of having an
abortion. Some reported feeling upset or abandoned by a system that would not
or could not provide the help and support needed.

The following items were
summarized from the participant’s responses:

1. Service members were surprised to discover the
military could not help them receive an abortion.

2. Pregnancies have serious implications for women’s
careers because some jobs in the military are not open to pregnant women.

3. Several said career
interests were a primary reason for the abortion.

4. The women said support
was not received from supervisors or medical providers.

5. Medical personnel
would not provide a reference to adequate facilities

6. The policy led to
delayed access to services causing feelings of stress

7. The costs were on
average almost $500

8. There are potentially
serious health consequences

9. Out of fear, one service member didn’t tell her
supervisors about her abortion and “wasn’t able to follow the post-op

10. Since service members have to go off base to seek an
abortion, women who are stationed in some parts of the world are not getting
safe medical care.

According to the
researcher, “Most of the women were not even aware of the Department of
Defense’s current abortion policy, which could cause delays in treatment as
they attempted to seek care from facilities that would not provide it or refer
them elsewhere.”5

Overseas Facilities

Over 100,000 service members are currently serving overseas.6  As noted earlier, serving overseas creates
additional challenges for servicewomen seeking abortion services. Social stigma
and desperation forces some women to make bad choices when selecting a facility
to perform that service.  As in the
United States, host country laws greatly impact what the servicewomen is able
to do.  Host country laws and adequate medical
facilities effect the level of quality care the service member can receive; if
at all.  A deeper look at the factors
shaping the abortion issues in these countries helps grasp the difficulties
servicewomen will experience while stationed there.   



National policy: Abortion is a
criminal offense except to save the life of the mother

Afghanistan Criminal Code of 7 October 1976 stipulates that the performance of
an abortion is a criminal offense except to save the life of the mother. 7  Medical doctors and nurses are penalized
severely for performing an illegal abortion. 
They receive maximum prison sentences. 
Non-medical personnel who take part in the procedure to include the
women herself are fined or imprisoned if convicted of performing an illegal


National policy: Abortion is illegal
except to save a woman’s life, in cases of rape or incest, or because of foetal

Current South Korean law punishes a woman who has an illegal abortion
with up to one year in prison or fines up to 2 million won ($1,820).8
Healthcare workers who provide abortions face up to two years in prison.8

Currently, women in Korea can obtain a legal abortion under very limited
circumstances.  However, there is a
movement for change under way.  Over
200,000 people signed a petition on the government website to change current
laws and legalize abortion.  Korean President
Cho pledged to respond formally to any petition that receives that many


Women are a large part of our
military.  Their role is vital to the
effectives of our fighting force.  They
help to ensure that all enjoy the inalienable right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness.  Servicewomen are
fighting for these rights for others as they are stripped of their right to
exercise their reproductive freedoms. 
Restricting the rights of anyone is wrong and to restrict a women’s
innate reproductive right is tyrannical. 
There has to be changes in our legislation to stop the systematic
removal of the reproductive rights of our female service members.  Despite what personal opinions and beliefs
individuals may have with regard to abortion and a woman’s right to choose,
providing good comprehensive healthcare is a most.  Servicewomen’s right to receive the same
access to abortion coverage that is available to the civilians they serve and
protect should not be a question. 

Leaders recognize that
providing comprehensive health care to service members is essential to mission
accomplishment. Changes to command views about pregnant service members,
elimination of legislation aimed at controlling a women’s body and access to
medical facilities are the things needed to fix this situation. It has been
shown that restrictions on covering abortions creates emotional and career challenges
for service members who become pregnant. 
The restrictions must be lifted to empower, promote and enrich our
military organization.


Army Doctrine Publication 6-22. Army Leadership.
(2012) Washington, DC. Department of the Army.


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