Exemptions from Military Service: Mothers in the Military and Fathers at Home?

Katherine Franke

Should the Army have exempted a mother from active-duty service because she has two young children, when her husband could have cared for them?

The New York Times reported recently that Lisa Pagan, a member of the U.S. Army Individual Ready Reserves, brought her two small children (ages 3 and 4) with her when she
had been reactivated for service and reported for duty at Ft. Benning,
GA, hoping to dramatize her request for an exemption from service on
the grounds of family hardship.  Pagan, who had done one tour of duty
in Iraq as a truck driver, had been recalled to active duty but claimed
that she should be exempted from serving because there was no one to
care for her children.  Seems that her husband, Travis, had to travel a
great deal for his job in sales, and could not be depended upon to
provide child-care for their children.   The Army’s regulations provide
that in the case of extreme personal
hardship, amounting to “an adverse impact on a Reservist’s dependents
resulting from his or her mobilization,” the Reservist may be
transferred to another division of the Reserves or discharged. 32 CFR §44.4(f)

Pagan’s plea for exemption was granted this week when she was
honorably discharged from the Army.  (The Individual Ready Reserves
(IRR) is comprised of former full-time soldiers who still have time
remaining on their military commitments. When Army hopefuls sign their
enlistment contracts, they are agreeing to an eight-year stint in the
service. After four years or so, soldiers who do not wish to become
lifers are given discharges and return to the civilian world. But
they’re still on the hook as IRR reservists and are supposed to keep
the Army apprised of their whereabouts.  Slate has a helpful story about how the IRR functions.)

Pagan’s case raises some difficult questions for those of us
concerned with gender-based justice.  On the one hand, the Army, just
like any other employer, needs to be sensitive to the dependency needs
of the people it employs.  In some respects, the military has taken a
lead in addressing the childcare needs of it’s employees.  Several
years ago the National Women’s Law Center
applauded the model the military set when it came to childcare.  Yet
there have also been countless stories in the news of men and women who
have been called up to service who are unable to provide adequate care
for their children while they are deployed abroad.  A year and a half
ago,  Senators Charles Schumer and Representative Carolyn Maloney
issues a report entitled: Helping Military Moms Balance Family and Longer Deployments.  Among other things, the report noted that:

  • Women make up approximately 14.3 % of the active duty military (one in seven)
  • 38% of the women in the active duty forces are mothers
  • 44% of the men in the active duty forces are fathers
  • Approximately 11 percent of women in the military are single mothers compared to 4 percent of single fathers
  • 93 percent of military spouses are women

On the other hand, when I read the Times story I thought: what about
the children’s father?  Can’t he take care of the kids?  If their
positions had been reversed, and the IRR member called up for active
duty had been a man, do you think the military would have allowed him
to plead “family hardship” if his wife was unwilling to quit her job to
take care of the kids?  Why isn’t the father in the picture in any
meaningful way as having a responsibility for taking care of the kids? 
His job seems to come first.  For her, childcare comes first.

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In fact, the question about why the father isn’t in the picture was
made quite clear when you compare the picture (above) that ran with the
story in the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle and many other
papers with the picture below that ran in the Boston Globe and USA
Today:

Even though Dad is included in this picture, it’s interesting that
he’s just sort of sitting over there by himself, while the kids are
clearly attached to their mother.

I concur with commentators such at Rebekah Sanderlin who writes a blog
about family life in the military that this is a hard case, but I don’t
think we can adequately assess the legitimacy of Pagan’s plea for
exemption from service when men continue to be exempted from service at
home.

This post was first published on the Gender & Sexuality Law Blog at Columbia Law School.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Clinton’s ‘Military Families Agenda’ Includes Calls for Family Leave, Child Care

Ally Boguhn

As part of her plan, Clinton would move to “ensure that family leave policies meet the needs of our military families so that, for example, new parents, as practical and consistent with mission, can care for their families at a pivotal moment.”

This week on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released her agenda for helping military families, and anti-choice voters remain ambiguous about Donald Trump’s positions on abortion.

Clinton Releases Plan to Expand Family Leave and Access to Child Care for Military Families

Clinton released her “Military Families Agenda” on Tuesday, detailing the former secretary of state’s plan, if elected, to support military personnel and their families.

“Military families, who serve alongside our service members, are vital to the strength of our military and the health of our nation,” reads Clinton’s plan. “Ensuring our military families have the support they need to balance service to the nation with the demands of family life helps our nation attract and retain the most talented service members.”

As part of her plan, Clinton would move to “ensure that family leave policies meet the needs of our military families so that, for example, new parents, as practical and consistent with mission, can care for their families at a pivotal moment.”

Clinton also vowed to improve access to child care for both active duty and reserve service members “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).” ​She did not say exactly what these improvements would entail.

“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” continues Clinton’s proposal.

Paid family leave has been a critical issue for Democrats on the campaign trail, and both Clinton and rival Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) rolled out clarifications and additional details about their proposals on the issue in January. Though the two candidates support similar federal policies, they would pay for them in different ways, with Clinton proposing raising taxes on the wealthy and Sanders pushing a payroll tax on workers and their employers.

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Clinton released a plan in early May to address the rising cost of child care in the United States, proposing that the federal government cap child-care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income, though the candidate’s campaign has yet to release details on how it would be implemented and funded.

Analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in 2015 found that increasingly, “child care is out of reach for working families,” and in in 33 states and Washington, D.C., child-care costs were higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at public universities.

Anti-Choice Voters Unsure About Trump’s Stance on Abortion

Recent polling found that the majority of voters who describe themselves as “pro-life” aren’t sure about whether they agree with presumptive Republican nominee Trump’s position on abortion.

The poll, conducted by Gallup during the first week of May, found that 63 percent of anti-choice respondents were unable to say whether they agreed or disagreed with Trump’s stance on abortion. Almost equal shares of anti-choice respondents said they agreed or disagreed with the Republican candidate: 19 percent agreed while 18 percent disagreed.

The majority of overall respondents—56 percent—had “no opinion” on whether they agreed with Trump on abortion or not. Just 13 percent of those polled agreed.

Meanwhile, 38 percent of those polled who considered themselves “pro-choice” said they agreed with Clinton’s position on abortion while 47 percent had “no opinion.” Twenty-two percent of all people surveyed said they agreed with Clinton, while 32 percent disagreed and 46 percent had no opinion.

Gallup’s findings follow months of ambiguity from both Republicans and the anti-choice community about Trump’s position on reproductive rights. Though Trump has consistently pushed his opposition to abortion on the campaign trail, his past statements on “punishing” abortion patients should abortion become illegal, and willingness to change the GOP platform on abortion to include exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment have landed him in hot water with some conservatives.

Anti-choice activists, however, are slowly starting to warm to the presumptive Republican nominee. Troy Newman, president of the radical group Operation Rescue, signaled he may be willing to back Trump in a blog post in May instructing the candidate to “earn” the anti-choice vote. Priests for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List officials both backed Trump in statements to the Washington Times, though they had previously spoken out against the Republican.

What Else We’re Reading

Eric Alterman explains in a piece for the Nation that the media’s willingness to provide a false equivalency to both sides of every issue “makes no sense when one side has little regard for the truth.”

“I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof,” said Trump in a 1994 interview with ABC News when discussing his romantic relationships. “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing …. If you’re in business for yourself, I really think it’s a bad idea.”

Sanders spotlighted Native American communities while campaigning in California ahead of the state’s primary. “This campaign is listening to a people whose pain is rarely heard—that is the Native American people,” said Sanders at a Sunday campaign rally. “All of you know the Native American people were lied to. They were cheated. Treaties they negotiated were broken from before this country even became a country. And we owe the Native American people a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay.”

Fusion’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy questions why Trump has said so little about the the Zika virus.

CNN embedded in a chyron a fact-check on Trump’s false claims about nuclear weapons.

Ohio removed thousands of voters from the state’s voter registration rolls because those voters had not cast ballots since 2008, in a move that could reportedly help Republicans in the state. Though states do occasionally cleanse their rolls, “only a handful [of states] remove voters simply because they don’t vote on a regular basis,” reports Reuters.

Commentary Abortion

Navigating the Military System to Get an Abortion: Olivia Pope Can’t Fix This Scandal

Renee Bracey Sherman

A recent Scandal episode highlighted a few barriers when attempting to seek an abortion while deployed, but what’s a service member to do when she doesn’t have Olivia Pope’s help navigating the system?

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This season’s Scandal episodes have tackled some of today’s most pressing social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, gun control, and feminism. Recently, sexual assault and abortion have taken center stage. In the episode titled “A Few Good Women,” Vice President Susan Ross travels to the USS Montana for a photo op with enlistees and notices that a young woman, Ensign Amy Martin, has bruises on her wrists. Privately, the vice president questions Ensign Martin about her injuries and it is revealed that a high-ranking admiral, and friend of the president, raped her. When the president tells Vice President Ross not to intervene in the military jurisdiction, she turns to everyone’s favorite fixer, Olivia Pope, to ensure Ensign Martin receives justice.

While Olivia Pope and her team fight to prove that the rape occurred, Ensign Martin realizes that she became pregnant and wants to seek an abortion immediately. “I have to get off the ship. I need you to get me an abortion,” Ensign Martin says to Pope. Their conversation is cut short by an officer who charges Ensign Martin with “conduct unbecoming,” which restricts her ability to leave the ship. With the creativity of her team, Olivia Pope cites an ill relative to free Ensign Martin from the ship so that she can seek abortion care. The most powerful image in the episode is when Pope stands tall holding Ensign Martin’s hand during Martin’s abortion.

The episode highlights a few barriers when attempting to seek an abortion, but what’s a service member to do when she doesn’t have Olivia Pope’s help navigating the system?

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Currently, about 14 percent of the U.S. military on active duty are women and 97 percent are of reproductive age. (It is estimated that about 15,000 military personnel identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, but due to regulations and lack of inclusion under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they are still unable to serve openly. Therefore research statistics do not include trans or gender nonconforming service members seeking abortion care for any number of reasons.) Due to the persistent rape culture within the military ranks, an estimated 20 to 43 percent of women experience “rape or attempted rape” during their military careers. Even more startling, the Department of Defense believes that over 85 percent of rapes are not reported due to fear of retaliation. According to the Department of Defense, over 60 percent of survivors who reported their rapes experienced some form of retaliation—exactly the storyline of that recent Scandal episode.

Whether or not a service member reports their rape, they may face a myriad of psychological and physical health effects, including unintended pregnancy. Acknowledging the serious sexual assault risks to service members, Congress passed the Shaheen Amendment in 2013 allowing TRICARE funds to be used for abortion care, though only in the cases of rape, incest, and health. Prior to the amendment, service members and their dependents could only use their TRICARE health insurance for abortions in the case of life endangerment. This bipartisan bill sought to bring the military policy in line with the overall federal policy governed by the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used for abortion unless under specific circumstances such as rape. While the Shaheen Amendment is a win for service members who have been raped and want an abortion, it doesn’t clear access for people in the military who become pregnant from having consensual sex and seek an abortion—a majority of whom do not want to have children at that moment and desire to finish their military career. Why are we as a nation asking service members to honor their country through military duty, yet systematically denying them abortion access and the very rights for which they are fighting?

As research shows, pregnancy while serving in the military is common, particularly among less privileged service members. In a recent study, Dr. Daniel Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, found that servicewomen experience unintended pregnancy at higher rates than the national average—54 percent as compared to 49 percent. Mirroring national statistics, women of color, personnel who are enlisted at a lower pay grade, younger members, and those without a college degree tend to experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies. A majority of respondents cited lack of access to contraception and sexual health education as a barrier to preventing pregnancy. They also cited challenges in obtaining refills for birth control or in visiting a provider while deployed. Additionally, many said they were confused by the laws as to whether or not they could seek birth control.

Similarly, in a 2011 study, Dr. Grossman looked at the experiences of service members seeking abortion while serving abroad. Similar to the civilian population, 56 percent already had one or more children and 78 percent said it was not a good time for them to have a child. About half said their unintended pregnancy was a failure of their contraceptive method, and many cited lack of access to contraception, emergency contraception, and gynecological care as major barriers. For its part, the House of Representatives passed a new policy stating that military clinics and hospitals must dispense all FDA-approved forms of contraception and give service members a “sufficient supply” of their birth control method as part of the annual defense policy bill last Friday.

“Deployed women face additional barriers, since they may be on a ship at sea or in countries where abortion is legally restricted and/or where security issues make travel off-base to obtain care very difficult,” Dr. Grossman told Rewire.

“Other barriers are related to lack of geographic proximity to providers, since many bases are located in more remote areas, and active-duty service members can only travel so far depending on how long their leave is for,” Dr. Grossman explained. If a service member becomes pregnant and wants an abortion, they must notify their chain of command to request leave and, if the pregnancy was not the result of rape or a danger to their health, cover the entire cost of the abortion and the evacuation from their deployment, which can amount to more than $10,000 per person. “It would take too much time for me to be sent back to the States and processed for me to meet the 9-week requirement for [a medication abortion],” explained one woman stationed in Iraq. If a pregnant person is deployed in an active war zone, it can take weeks to coordinate the evacuation, which increases the cost of the abortion and limits their clinic options, since not all providers offer later abortion care.

Even for those who do have the financial means to pay for their abortion out of pocket, the country in which they are stationed may prohibit abortion except in cases of life endangerment. It is very common for the Department of Defense to follow the laws of a host country, forcing service members to travel for legal abortion care, seek illegal care, or self-induce. In Dr. Grossman’s 2011 study, 68 percent of the women seeking abortions were deployed in countries where the health procedure is banned.

Further, notifying the chain of command infringes on their privacy around their decision, can get them in trouble for having sexual relationships while serving, and can put them in additional danger for retaliation if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Dr. Grossman said there’s a “lack of confidentiality if they say they’re pregnant and ask for leave for an abortion.”

For others, abortion stigma and fear of losing their job force them to seek an abortion outside of the military. “If the Army finds out that I am pregnant they will kick me out of the Army. The salary I earn supports my mother and two sisters at home. I cannot afford [for] this to happen. Please, please help me,” wrote one woman stationed in Iraq, whose consultation data was included in Grossman’s study.

Abortion stigma also results in limited access to abortion care in military treatment facilities. Due to lack of training in abortion care in military medical schools, few abortion providers, and refusal to provide abortions by military medical staff, access is low. According to the Department of Defense, an average of 3.79 abortions were performed on military facilities each year for the past 15 years. A woman stationed in Iraq said, “the Army makes it impossible to keep my pregnancy confidential and not everyone is open-minded about abortions.”