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U.S. military women continue the fight for abortion coverage

Despite service to their country, and enduring years of harassment and discrimination, American military women find themselves in a prolonged fight for abortion rights.

Presently, the Defense Department covers abortions for female soldiers only in cases where their lives are at risk. Military woman are now fighting for the right to obtain abortions in cases of incest and rape as well. As the law stands, servicewomen must pay the cost of the procedure, despite the fact that civilian women see their abortions covered through health insurance.

‘This is a matter of equity, it’s a matter of doing the right thing for the women who are serving in our military,’ Sen. Jeanne Shaheen D-N.H. told reporters at Capitol Hill last week. Shaheen has become the spokesperson and chief sponsor of the provision in Senate.

The amendment to lift the ban on abortion (the “Shaheen amendment”) passed in Senate last week 98-0, an important first step for reproductive autonomy for military women. However, the Senate bill needs to be combined with the decision of the House of Representatives before the President can sign it into law. The process includes negotiations that could see the important gains made so far altered to include more caveats and barriers to fair access.

Though the Senate is controlled by the left-leaning Democratic Party, (a month off of an election dominated by talk of women’s rights), the House contains a Republican majority. According to the Washington Post, some of the ‘top negotiators— a list that includes Republican and former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain—support the change.

This Is Personal, an organisation dedicated to advocating for women’s reproductive rights, is urging women to contact Members of Congress before and during the negotiation process. The fact is, this decision will be made largely by a group of men – men who likely will not and have not experienced rape and assault at the hands of their colleagues.

The reality is becoming harder and harder to deny as more women have come forward this year to name their attackers, and discuss the misogyny and violence in the U.S. military.

‘There is so much [assault] going on in the U.S. military that women soldiers’ advocacy groups have created a new term for it: military sexual trauma or MST’ wrote Naomi Wolf in the Guardian this spring. Her feature, ‘A culture of coverup: rape in the ranks of the U.S. military’, reports there were more than 3,000 cases of sexual assault in the military last year alone, with a meager 1,518 leading to any disciplinary action. In 2010, that number was, reportedly, more than 19,000.

Servicewomen who come forward, women like Kori Cioca of the U.S. coastguard (and just one woman featured in the new documentary, ‘The Invisible War’, about rape and assault in the military) are rarely believed or threatened with punishment for coming forward.

‘In this time-honored, empire-honed culture, war is a manly space; women are interlopers and thus “fair game”, or else they are controlled and exploited as camp followers and sex workers,’ writes Wolf.

And now, when these attacks result in pregnancies, the same women who fight for their country are told they are on their own when they get home.

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One thought on “U.S. military women continue the fight for abortion coverage

  1. Pingback: Feminist News Round-up 16.12.12 | News | Lip Magazine

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