Keep our women in service safe: Support the Burris Amendment


Women serving overseas need your help to secure access to safe abortions when they need them.  The Burris amendment would allow women in the military to spend their own money to access the same medical services they have the right to access in the United States when serving offshore.

A little-known amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill could lead to crucial changes in access to health care for women serving our country overseas.  In brief, the Burris Amendment (covered previously on RHRealityCheck) would allow women in the military to spend their own money to access the same medical services they have the right to access in the United States when serving offshore.  The entire cost of the abortion would be borne by the woman herself, and no military physician would be forced to perform abortions.

The Burris Amendment was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, and faces the same hurdles as several other amendments that have been tacked onto the appropriations bill, including a repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. 

Although the Burris Amendment is the most recent attempt to improve access to safe abortion for women serving in the military, this is hardly a new fight for the prochoice movement.  As with other reproductive health issues, women’s access to safe abortion has varied depending on who is in office.  In the 1970s, abortion on military bases was allowed and was federally funded.  Starting in the late 1970s restrictions began.  The Hyde Amendment prohibited federally funded abortions, and women were no longer allowed even to use their own funds until Bill Clinton took office.  Women were granted a brief reprieve in 1993, but in 1996 Congress enacted a statutory ban on privately funded abortions in military facilities.  Representative Susan Davis of California unsuccessfully attempted an override in 2005 and 2006.

Meanwhile, for the past 14 years the very women bravely defending all of our rights paradoxically are not able to exercise them for themselves.  This has devastating consequences.  A 26-year-old marine detailed her experience of attempting to provoke an abortion on her own while serving in Iraq on the online magazine, Religion Dispatches:

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You hear these legends of coat-hanger abortions…but there are no coat hangers in Iraq. I looked.

In 2002, retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy bravely published a letter in support of access to privately funded abortions at US military bases.  She had seen her colleagues undergo traumatic experiences merely to access the same care all American women have the right to receive.  She recounts the experience of a young woman serving in Germany who had to venture off base to obtain a safe abortion:

The experience had been both mortifying and painful….no pain killer of any sort was administered for the procedure; the modesty of this soldier and the other women at the clinic had been violated (due to different cultural expectations about nudity); and neither she nor the soldier understood German, and the instructions were given in almost unintelligible English.

Unfortunately, women serving in the military must rely on retired soldiers and non-military doctors and nurses to tell their stories to their representatives, as active military cannot speak sirectly with Congress.

Among military women, 2/3 of pregnancies are unintended.  Those who choose abortion must inform their commanding officer in order to get time off, return to the United States (or another country with access to safe abortion) at their own expense, and pay for the abortion themselves.  Young women in the military are often making between $20,000 and $25,000.  What should be a private matter between a woman and her doctor becomes a public, expensive, emotionally and physically taxing event.  Women who should be able to have a procedure soon after deciding on abortion and return to work the next day instead may find themselves facing an ordeal that can last weeks or even months.

I was on Capitol Hill this past week lobbying in favor of this amendment with Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.  When we told legislative aides stories about the terrible toll this ban on privately funded abortions on military bases takes on our servicewomen, they clearly began to understand what is at stake.

If you have any personal stories about the impact of this ban on you, friends, family, or patients, please contact your Senators and Representatives to speak for women who can’t speak for themselves.

This is not about abortion.  This is about taking care of the women who are protecting us.  They deserve the best care possible, regardless of where they are stationed.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.