News Politics

Military Leaders Standing Up for Servicewomen in Support of Shaheen Amendment

ACLU

Flag officers in the United States Armed Forces have signed a letter of support for the pending Shaheen Amendment to the FY 12 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867) that would provide servicewomen and military dependents with abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest.

The following distinguished flag officers in the United States Armed Forces have signed a letter of support for the pending Shaheen Amendment to the FY 12 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867) that would provide servicewomen and military dependents with abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest.

The letter states as follows:

November 2011
U.S. ARMED FORCES FLAG OFFICERS IN SUPPORT OF
THE SHAHEEN AMENDMENT
TO THE FY12 NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT

Dear Senators:

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We, the undersigned flag officers, write in strong support of the Shaheen Amendment to the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867) that provides abortion coverage for servicewomen and dependents who are victims of rape and incest.
It has been our privilege to treat, care for, or serve alongside the brave men and women of our armed forces and we believe that they deserve the best medical care that our country can provide. We also believe that our women in the military, who serve their country and in many cases risk their lives and safety to preserve our freedoms, should have access to the full range of medical care, including comprehensive reproductive health care.

We are greatly disappointed to learn that, by federal statute, the Department of Defense is barred from providing coverage for abortion care except where a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike the other federal bans on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for cases of rape and incest. The current policy is unjust and unfair.

Restoring abortion coverage to our military women and family members who are survivors of rape and incest would bring the Department of Defense in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid or the Federal Employee Health Benefit program. At the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as civilian women who rely on the federal government for their health care.
Our servicewomen commit their lives to defending our freedoms; Congress should respect their service and sacrifice and provide them with the same level of health care coverage it provides civilians.

Additionally, 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 during the brief period when the private funding ban was lifted in 1993-1995 and remain in effect today.
Sincerely,

1. Ronald R. Blanck, DO, Lieutenant General, MC, USA (Ret.), Fenwick Island, DE 19944

2. Robert G. Gard, Jr., Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.), Rockville, MD 20850

3. Claudia J. Kennedy, Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.), Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

4. Harold M. Koenig, MD, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.), San Diego, CA 92116

5. Donna F. Barbisch, DHA, MPH, Major General, USA (Ret.), Washington, DC 20003

6. Dennis J. Laich, Major General, USA (Ret.), Powell, OH 43065

7. Gale S. Pollock, CRNA, FACHE, FAAN, Major General, USA (Ret.), Falls Church, VA 22041

8. Rabbi Harold L. Robinson, Rear Admiral, CHC, USN (Ret.), Centerville, MA 02632

9. Deborah C. Wheeling, MS, MSN, RN, Major General, Army National Guard (Ret.), Otego, NY 13825

10. Clara Adams-Ender, RN, MS, FAAN, Brigadier General, USA (Ret.), Lake Ridge, VA 22192

11. Evelyn “Pat” Foote, Brigadier General, USA (Ret.), Accokeek, MD 20607

12. Wilma L. Vaught, Brigadier General, USAF (Ret.), Falls Church, VA 22044

Bios of each of the signatories follow below:

Lieutenant General Ronald R. Blanck, D.O. (Ret.) was the 39th Surgeon General of the United States Army (1996 to 2000). He is a doctor of osteopathic medicine and is the only such physician ever appointed Surgeon General of the Army. He was also president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth from 2000 to 2006.

Dr. Blanck began his military career in 1968 as a medical officer and battalion surgeon in Vietnam. He retired 32 years later as the Surgeon General of the US Army and commander of the US Army Medical Command, with more than 46,000 military personnel and 26,000 civilian employees throughout the world.

During his military career, Dr. Blanck also served as commander of Walter Reed Medical Center; first commander of the North Atlantic Region Medical Command; and Director of Professional Services and Chief of Medical Corps Affairs for the US Army Surgeon General. Other assignments included Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine; Chief of the Department of Medicine at Brooke Army Medical Center; Commander, Berlin Army Hospital; and Commander, Frankfurt Regional Army Medical Center.

Dr. Blanck is now is a partner and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Martin, Blanck & Associates, which does health care consulting for the private sector and the government.

His military honors include Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and Meritorious Service and Army Commendation Medals.

Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (Ret.) is a 31-year veteran of the US Army and served in combat in Korea and Vietnam. He served as executive assistant to two secretaries of defense, was the first Director of Human Resources Development for the US Army and served as President of the National Defense University.

Lt. Gen. Gard is currently Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where his policy work focuses on nuclear nonproliferation, missile defense, Iraq, Iran, military policy, nuclear terrorism, and other national security issues.

After retiring from the US Army, Lt. Gen. Gard served for five years as director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Center in Bologna, Italy, and then as President of the Monterey Institute of International Studies from 1987 to 1998. Since 1998, he has been an active consultant in Washington, DC on national security issues, including the international campaign to ban landmines.

Lt. Gen. Gard has written for a diverse number of well-known journals and periodicals that focus on military and international affairs and has lectured widely at US and international universities and academic conferences. He serves on the board of eight non-profit organizations and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

His decorations include the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Defense Distinguished Flying Cross and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.

Lieutenant General Claudia Jean Kennedy (Ret.) is the first female to reach the rank of three-star general in the US Army. She retired in 2000 after 31 years of military service.

Lt. Gen. Kennedy was born in Frankfurt, Germany. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Southwestern at Memphis and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in June 1969 through the Women’s Army Corps. She was confirmed by the Senate for promotion to Lieutenant General and assigned to the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence as of May 21, 1997.

Lt. Gen. Kennedy has held a variety of command and staff positions throughout her career. Key assignments include: Commander, 3d Operations Battalion, US Army Field Station Augsburg, Germany; Commander, San Antonio Recruiting Battalion, US Army Recruiting Command; and Commander, 703rd Military intelligence Brigade, Field Station Kunia, Hawaii.

She has served as Operations Officer, US Army Field Station Augsburg, US Army Intelligence and Security Command; Staff Officer, Directorate of Training, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Washington, DC; the Director of Intelligence, G2, Forces Command, Fort McPherson, Georgia, as Deputy Commander, US Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca/Assistant Commandant, US Army Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and as the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence at Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC.

During her career, Lt. Gen. Kennedy has received awards and decorations to include the Legion of Merit (three Oak Leaf Clusters), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Medal (three Oak Leaf Clusters), the Army Commendation Medal (three Oak Leaf Clusters) and the Army Staff Identification Badge.

Vice Admiral Harold Koenig, MD (Ret.) retired in 1998 as Surgeon General of the Navy and Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery with the permanent rank of Vice Admiral after a 32-year Navy career.

As Surgeon General, Dr. Koenig exercised day-to-day executive management and oversight of the entire Department of the Navy’s medical policies, programs, and activities. Prior to serving as Navy Surgeon General he was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense where he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs).

Dr. Koenig is currently the Chairman of the Board and President of The Annapolis Center for Science Based Public Policy, a non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting responsible environmental, health and safety decision-making. He is also the President of the Kensington-Talmadge Community Association. He is a partner in Edward Martin & Associates Inc. a consulting firm to the healthcare industry and healthcare information management and technology companies.

Dr. Koenig’s military awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Gold Star, Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star, Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal.

Major General Donna Barbisch, DHA, MPH (Ret.) joined the Army in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War when most women just did not do that. To put it in historical perspective, it was that year — 1967 that restrictions to women’s promotions were lifted.

Maj. Gen. Barbisch started her military career as a Private First Class in the Army Student Nurse Program and rose to the rank of Major General over a military career spanning more than 38 years, retiring from the Army in 2005. Today Maj. Gen. Barbisch is the President of Global Deterrence Alternatives, a consulting business focused on deterring terrorism and building capacity to manage disasters. She works nationally and internationally to improve preparedness and works with think tanks and executive boards to develop strategic solutions to complex issues. Maj. Gen. Barbisch has been described as a visionary with an entrepreneurial approach to emerging threats.

Over the course of her career she was selected to command a MASH hospital (a first for a nurse), completed a master’s degree and had two wonderful daughters. In 1995 she was selected to attend the US Army War College. She was honored with a follow-on assignment as the Director of Reserve Component Integration Studies in the War College’s Department of Command, Leadership, and Management. Because of her experience at the War College, her efforts shifted to the study of bioterrorism and combating weapons of mass destruction. She led an initiative to identify military roles in domestic support of terrorist attacks. Her seminal work in NYC established policy and protocol credited with improving NYC response to 911. During her promotion to Major General, the Chief of the Army Reserve said “We would not have responded so well on September 11th and since then without the contributions of Donna Barbisch.”

Maj. Gen. Barbisch’s awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Medal, Bronze Service Star, Vietnam Service Medal with Service Star, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Reserve Components Overseas Training Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Expert Field Medical Badge.

Major General Dennis Laich (Ret.) served for 35 years in the US Army Reserve, 14 of which were spent in various command positions, the last as commander of the 94th Regional Readiness Command in Ft. Devens, MA.

Maj. Gen. Laich holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Lafayette College, and master’s degrees from West Virginia University and St. Francis College in Business Administration and Labor Relations. He completed postgraduate studies at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a graduate of the Army War College.

He is currently serving as Ohio Dominican’s PATRIOTS Program Director. Maj. Gen. Laich is the University’s support liaison for veterans applying for the PATRIOTS program, providing one-on-one assistance and linking them with resources they need to meet their educational goals.

His military awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Joint Meritorious Service Medal.

Major General Gale S. Pollock (Ret.), Army Nurse Corps, CRNA, FACHE, FAAN, is currently an Advanced Leadership Fellow in Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. Before retiring from the Army she served as Commander, US Army Medical Command and Acting Surgeon General of the Army in 2007 (the first woman, non-physician to have this role in any of the military services with a $9.7B annual budget).

She is an adjunct clinical professor of Yonsei University Graduate School of Nursing, a consultant with CornerStone Associates and owner of Pollock Associates, LLC. Maj. Gen. Pollock was the founding Executive Director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and School of Nursing.

During her Army career, Maj. Gen. Pollock’s military assignments include Acting Surgeon General and Commander of the Army Medical Department; 22nd Chief of the Army Nurse Corps; Deputy Surgeon General for Force Management; Commander, Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, HI; Command Surgeon, US Army Pacific Command; Special Assistant to the Surgeon General for Information Management and Health Policy; Commander, Martin Army Community Hospital, Fort Benning, Ga.; Commander, US Army Medical Activity, Fort Drum, NY; Staff Officer, Strategic Initiatives Command Group for the Army Surgeon General; Department of Defense Healthcare Advisor to the Congressional Commission on Service Members and Veterans Transition Assistance; Health Fitness Advisor at the National Defense University; Senior Policy Analyst in Health Affairs, DoD; and Chief, Anesthesia Nursing Service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC.

Maj. Gen. Pollock’s awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal (with 2 oak leaf clusters), Legion of Merit (with 2 oak leaf clusters), and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (with 4 oak leaf clusters), the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Achievement Medal. She received the Army Staff Identification Badge for her work at the Pentagon and earned the German Armed Forces Military Efficiency Badge “Leistungsabzeichen” in gold. She earned the coveted Expert Field Medical Badge, and is proud to wear the Parachutist Badge.

Maj. Gen. Pollock received the 2008 Agatha Hodgins Achievement Award from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists; was the 2007 “Woman of the Year” of the American Legion Auxiliary; and was a Distinguished Alumna of Baylor University in 2006.

Maj. Gen.Pollock received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Maryland. She attended the US Army Nurse Anesthesia Program and is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). She received her Master of Business Administration from Boston University; a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from Baylor University, a Master’s in National Security and Strategy from the National Defense University, and an honorary Doctorate of Public Service from the University of Maryland. She is also a Fellow in The American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) and the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN).

Her passion is restoration of sight and when not advancing this cause, she spends time with her “spousal-unit” Doug McAllaster, enjoying exercise and the beauty of the outdoors.

Rear Admiral Rabbi Harold L. Robinson (Ret.) served as a member of the Chaplain Corps and was Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters and the Director of Religious Programs, Fleet Marine Force.

Rear Adm. Robinson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1968. He also earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters, 1972, and a Master of Arts and ordination as a Rabbi, in 1974, both from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1999, the College Institute conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity and in 2005, Coe College awarded him the Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Rear Adm. Robinson’s military career began in 1971, when he was commissioned as an Ensign in the US Naval Reserve and in 1975, he became a Navy Chaplain.

His flag assignment was Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters and Director of Religious Programs, Marine Force Reserve. Rear Adm. Robinson served as President of COMNAVRESFOR Policy Board FY 2005. He was made a Fleet Marine Force Qualified Officer. His overseas assignments took him all over the world.

His personal awards and honors included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Naval Commendation Medal with two Gold Stars and the Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Deployment Ribbon.

Rear Adm. Robinson is currently the Director of the JWB-Jewish Chaplains Council of the Jewish Community Centers of North America.

Major General Deborah Wheeling, MS, MSN, RN (Ret.) served as Deputy Surgeon General for the Army National Guard and served in a variety of clinical assignments within the Army Medical Department spanning all three Army components. Assignments at Fort Ord, Calif., Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Colo., and Fort Bragg, N.C., provided clinical experience within Active Component TDA units where she served as Clinical Head Nurse in a variety of outpatient settings. While assigned to Womack Army Community Hospital, Fort Bragg, and Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, her expertise and experience enabled her to develop and implement the role of an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, thereby establishing the template for advanced oncology nursing practice at both of these facilities.

Maj. Gen. Wheeling served with the US Army Reserve, 312th Evacuation Hospital, Greensboro, N.C., and the 3264th Augmentation Hospital, Durham, N.C., during her graduate studies at Duke University. She joined the West Virginia Army National Guard upon release from active duty in 1984, and served as the State Chief Nurse, West Virginia Army National Guard for five years, overseeing the medical deployment of West Virginia National Guard forces in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In October 2002, she was selected as the Assistant Surgeon General for Mobilization, Readiness and National Guard Affairs, Office of the Surgeon General. In October 2005, Maj. Gen. Wheeling was selected as the Deputy Surgeon General for the Army National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Wheeling’s awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Superior Unit Award, the Order of Military Medical Merit, and the hallmark of clinical and academic expertise, the Surgeon General’s 9A proficiency designator.

Brigadier General Pat Foote (Ret.) was born in 1930, commissioned in the US Army in 1959 and served over 30 years before retiring on September 1, 1989.

Her final tour of duty was as the Commanding General, Ft. Belvoir, Va.

Brig. Gen. Foote holds a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University, a master’s degree from Shippensburg State University and is a graduate of the Executive Program of the University of Virginia, the Army War College and the Center for Creative Leadership. She is also the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Wake Forest University.

In her career, Brig. Gen. Foote commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and major installation levels. She was the first women to be appointed to the Army War College faculty, and the first Army woman to command a brigade in Europe. Brig. Gen. Foote also served a tour in Vietnam and three tours of duty at Department of the Army level.

She was recalled to active duty from 1996-1997 to serve as Vice Chair of the Secretary of the Army’s Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment.

She is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Bronze Star Medal.

Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (Ret.) is President of the Board of Directors of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc.

Her last military assignment was as Commander of the US Military Entrance Processing Command, North Chicago, IL, where she served from June 1982, until her retirement in August 1985.

She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Women’s History Museum and serves on the Virginia War Memorial Foundation Board of Trustees. Following retirement, she worked as a consultant with the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization as well as with industry. She speaks around the United States on leadership and management.

A native of Illinois, Brig. Gen. Vaught earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana from which she received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 1983; she also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and an Honorary Doctorate of Public Affairs from Columbia College, SC. She is the first Air Force woman graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

During her military career, she held various positions in the comptroller field at Barksdale AFB, LA; Zaragoza AFB, Spain; McCoy AFB, Orlando, FL; Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Saigon, Vietnam; Air Force Logistics Command, Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH; the Air Staff, The Pentagon, Washington, DC; and she was the Deputy Chief of Staff, Comptroller, Air Force Systems Command, Andrews AFB, MD.

Brig. Gen. Vaught served as Chairperson of the NATO Women in the Allied Forces Committee from 1983 to 1985 and was the senior woman military representative to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services from 1982 to 1985.

Brig. Gen. Vaught’s numerous military decorations and awards include both the Defense and Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, Air Force Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Vietnam Service Medal with four service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Commentary Contraception

The Double Standard of Military Pregnancy: What Contraceptive Access Won’t Fix

Stephanie Russell-Kraft

Unique military gender politics that make it hard for some servicewomen to ask for birth control also stigmatize them if they get pregnant—especially when that happens at an overseas post or on a deployment. Any effort to increase birth control availability can only be understood against that particular cultural backdrop.

At the beginning of May, pharmaceutical giant Allergan announced that, in partnership with nonprofit Medicines360, it would begin offering its new intrauterine device (IUD) Liletta at a reduced price to military treatment facilities and veterans hospitals across the United States. The company would also support “an educational effort to raise contraception awareness among healthcare providers treating U.S. military service women,” according to its press release.

Military personnel and medical professionals agree Allergan’s initiative represents an important step toward expanding access to the IUD, which along with other long-acting reversible contraceptives (like injections) are particularly well suited to the demands of military training and deployment schedules. But this push to increase IUD use can’t be fully understood outside the context of the unique challenges and stigmas facing women of reproductive age in the U.S. military (who numbered just under 200,000 as of 2011, the latest available data obtained via FOIA by Ibis Reproductive Health).

Despite theoretically having access to a wide variety of contraceptive options, women in the military still report higher rates of unplanned pregnancy than their civilian peers, and it remains somewhat of a mystery exactly why. What is clear is that the unique military gender politics that make it hard for some women to ask for birth control also stigmatize them if they get pregnant—especially when that happens at an overseas post or on a deployment. Any effort to increase birth control availability, including Allergan’s, can only be understood against that particular cultural backdrop.

Nearly every time a U.S. military branch changes policies to include more women, critics raise the old argument that allowing women into the service, particularly in combat roles, will lead to sex between soldiers and thereby distract from the mission. Because of that, the military generally prohibits sex during deployments between service members not married to each other (exact policies vary across the branches and across units, and some are less strict). Taken as a whole, the U.S. military’s policy basically amounts to an abstinence-only approach, with women shouldering nearly all of the risk and blame when soldiers do decide to have sex on deployment.

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Bethany Saros, who enlisted in the Army as an 18-year-old in 2002, faced this blame head-on when she became pregnant by a fellow soldier during a 2007 tour in Iraq.

Although condoms were available to soldiers at her deployment site, Saros did not use birth control. Her decision not to end the pregnancy meant her deployment was over, and Saros recalls meeting several other pregnant women in Kuwait while they all waited to get shipped back. “I felt like a pariah, and I think the other girls did too,” she said.

“It’s not like anyone does this on purpose,” Saros explained. “The fathers of these babies, they don’t get any problems, and they were screwing around just as we were.”

Across all branches of service, pregnant women are typically not allowed to serve on deployments, and, though the length of time varies by branch, women are not allowed to deploy in the six to 12 months after they give birth. According to spokespeople from each of the branches, the reasoning behind the policies is to protect servicewomen and give them the time they need to recover from birth. All of the women I spoke with for this piece told me that soldiers—both male and female—often believe a woman who gets pregnant right before or during a deployment is simply trying to avoid her work.

“The first thing someone talked about when a woman got pregnant was that she was trying to get out of a deployment,” said Lauren Zapf, a former Naval officer, mental health clinician, and fellow with the Service Women’s Action Network. “Whereas if men announce that they’re going to have a baby, there’s a lot of backslapping and congratulations.”

According to Ibis Reproductive Health’s analysis of Department of Defense data, about 11 percent of active-duty military women reported an unintended pregnancy in 2008 and 7 percent reported an unintended pregnancy in 2011—in both years, this was far more than the general population. Younger, less educated, nonwhite women were much more likely to become pregnant unintentionally, as were those who were married or living with a partner, according to Ibis. Contrary to military lore, the pregnancy rates did not differ between those women who had deployed and those who didn’t during that time, the study found.

It remains unclear why exactly military women have higher reported rates of unplanned pregnancy than their civilian counterparts, but one reason has likely been their inconsistent access to birth control and limited access to abortion services. As with most institutions, there’s a difference between official policy and what happens on a day-to-day basis on military bases and in medical exam rooms. Just because most military branches officially require routine birth control consultations doesn’t mean women will always get them, according to Ibis researcher Kate Grindlay, who is one of very few independent researchers looking into this issue.

“One of the challenges that we found [in our research] was that these things were not being done in a consistent way,” Grindlay said. “Some providers having these conversations in a routine way, some weren’t.”

Access to birth control—and the conversations that lead up to it—has improved greatly for military women in the past 20 years. Elizabeth McCormick, a former Black Hawk pilot who served in the Army from 1994 to 2001, recalled that “no one talked about birth control” in any of her pre-deployment medical events in the 1990s. By contrast, some of the women I spoke with who served more recently said they didn’t have issues getting the care they needed.

However, in a 2010 Ibis survey of deployed women, 59 percent of respondents said they hadn’t discussed contraception with a military health-care provider before deployment and 41 percent said they had difficulty obtaining the birth control refills they needed while away from home. Servicewomen also reported being denied an IUD because they had not yet had children, even though nulliparous women can use the devices.

These inconsistencies are part of the problem Allergan says it hopes to address with its education efforts for military health-care providers. The company hasn’t explicitly said what those efforts will look like.

Another part of the problem, according to former Marine Corps officer and Cobra helicopter pilot Kyleanne Hunter, might be cultural. Conversations with military medical providers likely present another major barrier to proper contraceptive care because most military doctors are not only men, but also officers, who, outside the context of a hospital exam room, can give orders that must be respected.

Young female enlisted service members who have internalized the military’s rigid power structures might be reluctant to speak honestly and openly about reproductive care, posited Hunter, who’s currently a University of Denver PhD candidate studying the national security impact of integrating women into western militaries. She said the same dynamic often prevents women from coming forward after they have been sexually assaulted by a fellow service member.

“It adds one more layer to what’s already an uncomfortable conversation,” Hunter said.

When Bethany Saros returned to Fort Lewis, Washington, after leaving Iraq for her pregnancy, a conversation with a male doctor solidified her decision to quit the Army altogether.

“I had to go through a physical, and there was a Marine doctor, and he said, ‘Was there enough room on the plane for all the pregnant ladies that came back?’” she told me, still taken aback by the incident.

Grindlay said efforts like Allergan’s to increase the use of IUDs in the military are “very beneficial” to servicewomen. She also applauded a provision in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to require standardized clinical guidelines for contraceptive care across the armed forces. Under the new provisions, women in the armed forces must receive counseling on the “full range of methods of contraception provided by health care providers” during pre-deployment health care visits, visits during deployment, and annual physical exams.

But there’s still work to be done in order for the military to provide full access to reproductive health care, particularly when it comes to abortion. Tricare, the military’s health and insurance provider, only covers abortions “if pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or the mother’s life is at risk,” and certain countries in which the military operates ban the procedure altogether.

In a sampling of 130 online responses for a medication abortion consultation service reviewed by Ibis in 2011, several military women reported considered using “unsafe methods” to try to terminate a pregnancy themselves, according to Grindlay. One of the women, a 23-year-old stationed in Bahrain, said she had been turned away by five clinics and had contemplated taking “drastic measures.”

According to the 2011 Ibis report, many women sought abortions so that they could continue their military tour. Others feared a pregnancy would otherwise ruin their careers.

Virginia Koday, a former Marine Corps electronics technician who left the service in 2013, said in a phone interview that women can face losing their rank or getting charged for violating military policy if they become pregnant overseas. “Getting pregnant in Afghanistan is good cause to terminate your own pregnancy without anyone finding out,” she said.

“The unspoken code is that a good soldier will have an abortion, continue the mission, and get some sympathy because she chose duty over motherhood,” wrote Bethany Saros in a 2011 Salon piece about her unplanned pregnancy.

For these women, one act of unprotected sex had the potential to derail their career. For the men, it was just a night of fun.

Kyleanne Hunter said that while she doesn’t have a “whole lot of sympathy” for women who become pregnant on deployments (they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place, she argues), she disagrees with the double standard that allows the men involved to escape punishment.

“Both parties need to be held exactly to the same accountability standards,” said Hunter. “If the woman is punished, then whoever she is involved with should be punished a well, because it takes two. She’s not alone in it. There’s no immaculate conception going on there.”

Analysis Human Rights

Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism: A Daily Struggle for Muslim Women

Kanya D’Almeida

In the second part of Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series, we look at how Muslim families, particularly women, are forced to confront state violence on a daily basis­­—from living with the stigma of terrorism, to repairing their broken homes, to navigating what they say is a brutal and biased prison system.

This is the second article in Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series. You can read the other pieces in the series here.

When Virginia native Mariam Abu-Ali was 14 years old, her life abruptly turned upside down. It was 2003, two years after the September 11 attacks and well into an era of counterterrorism tactics that were systematically hollowing out Muslim residents’ civil liberties and constitutional protections in the United States. But the Abu-Ali family never imagined they would be caught up in the dragnet.

Mariam’s then-22-year-old brother, Ahmed Omar, had been studying in Medina, Saudi Arabia, when he was arrested in connection with a series of May 2003 terrorist attacks in Riyadh.

In an interview with Rewire, Mariam says her brother, who was born in Texas, was held in solitary confinement in a Saudi jail for nearly two years without ever being charged with a crime. During that time, Mariam tells Rewire over the phone, there is strong evidence that he was tortured. Although defense expert Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Program for Survivors of Torture at the Bellevue/NYU Hospital, examined Ahmed and testified at his U.S. trial to the evidence of torture, an appeals court eventually ruled that Ahmed’s statements to Saudi interrogators were “voluntary.”

When, after months of legal pressure from his family, he was finally returned to the United States, a court for the Eastern District of Virginia charged him with multiple counts, including conspiring with an Al-Qaeda cell in Medina to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Following a trial that permitted the admission of what Mariam called “a coerced confession,” he was eventually sentenced to 30 years in prison, and later re-sentenced to life.

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Yet as legal experts like Elaine Cassel, author of The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Dismantled the Bill of Rights, have pointed out, “Nowhere in the indictment [was] Abu-Ali tied to any terrorist event or action”—either in the United States or in Saudi Arabia.

Instead, his case fell under the shadowy material support statutes that have governed much of the United States’ counterterrorism operation in the years since 9/11, under the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This set of laws allows the U.S. government to preemptively prosecute individuals for engaging in terrorism based on their perceived predisposition toward violence, rather than their actions.

Over the past 15 years, hundreds of Muslims have disappeared in a warren of these convoluted laws; they are currently locked up in high-security prisons around the country.

A constellation of families, scholars, activists, and civil rights organizations have long challenged the effects of material support charges, as well as the unfair trials and the lengthy and harsh prison sentences that tend to follow them. Over the past few years, they have come together in a campaign called No Separate Justice, an attempt to unite far-flung groups and individuals who are working to dismantle what they say is a parallel and unjust legal system for Muslim residents in post-9/11 America.

Women like Mariam Abu-Ali have been at the forefront of the movement—along with Zurata Duka and Shahina Parveen, whose stories Rewire has previously reported on—advocating on behalf of their loved ones.

In the second part of Rewire’s “Living in the Shadow of Counterterrorism” series, we look at how families, particularly women, are forced to confront state violence on a daily basis­­—from living with the stigma of terrorism, to repairing their broken homes, to navigating what they say is a brutal and biased prison system.

“Dangerous” Minds, Draconian Measures

Mariam Abu-Ali says her brother’s case represents many of the civil rights violations that have marred the decade and a half since 9/11, a sentiment that is echoed in the final opinion on Ahmed Omar’s case penned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

In its unanimous decision to uphold the guilty verdict on nine terrorism-related counts against Ahmed in 2008, the three-judge bench wrote:

Persons of good will may disagree over the precise extent to which the formal criminal justice process must be utilized when those suspected of participation in terrorist cells and networks are involved … the criminal justice system is not without those attributes of adaptation that will permit it to function in the post-9/11 world.

While the opinion does not explicitly state what these “attributes of adaptation” are, studies on counterterrorism indicate they could refer to any number of legal practices that have become normalized since September 11. In particular, they could refer to the use of material support statutes, which have played a significant role in the prosecution of Muslim Americans like Ahmed Omar.

As FBI Assistant Director Gary Bald testified to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2004:

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the material support statutes to our ongoing counterterrorism efforts. The statutes are sufficiently broad to include terrorist financers and supporters who provide a variety of resources to terrorist networks. The statutes provide the investigative predicate which allows intervention at the earliest possible stage of terrorist planning to identify and arrest terrorists and supporters before a terrorist attack occurs. [Emphasis added.]

In short, material support statutes have enabled federal authorities to prosecute people based on suspicion of what they might do in the future rather than any overt criminal act. The statutes primarily refer to “support” for terrorist networks as weapons, arms training, or direct funding. Prosecutors, courts, and juries, however, have interpreted the laws much more broadly to encompass the sharing of religious or political texts online, casual conversations between friends, or charitable donations to organizations in areas controlled by terrorist groups.

In many instances, material support charges have amounted to nothing more than thought crimes, in which law-abiding Muslim residents have been penalized simply for expressing their religious and political views.

According to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, material support cases rose sharply in the decade following the September 11 attacks. Prior to 9/11, just six individuals had been charged under these laws in the United States. In the decade following, 168 of 917 domestic terrorism convictions analyzed by HRW fell under such statutes, accounting for 18 percent of all terrorism-related convictions in that time period.

Even a cursory look at some of these cases is sufficient to grasp the breadth of these laws, which have pushed deep into Muslim communities, tearing through many layers of social fabric along the way.

In 2012, the New York Times published an op-ed by Yale professor Andrew March on the case of Tarek Mehanna, a Pittsburgh-born doctor and community leader who was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison because his opinions about Islam, expressed online, were deemed a form of material support for terrorist causes.

March wrote in the Times:

As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens. As a human being, I sometimes feel joy (I am ashamed to admit) at the suffering of some humans and anger at the suffering of others. At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.

March’s op-ed illustrates a frightening truth about material support statutes: They allow for the preemptive prosecution of individuals who have not yet committed a crime but whom the government deems capable of possibly committing a crime in the future.

Other cases, such as the Holy Land Five, demonstrate a pattern in which material support laws have essentially criminalized charitable giving. The case involved the founders of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity that provided humanitarian aid to the needy, including women and children in Palestine. Though the government concluded that the Holy Land Foundation never directly aided a terrorist organization, it nonetheless prosecuted five of its members for funneling aid through charitable committees into areas controlled by Hamas, a designated Palestinian terrorist group, thereby violating material support statutes. Journalists called the verdict an attack on Islam itself, particularly the practice of zakat, which mandates that Muslims allocate a portion of their wealth or earnings for charitable causes.

Because cases based on material support statutes tend to paint the accused as extremely dangerous persons, they are often accompanied by harsh conditions of confinement, both pretrial and following a conviction.

From its very inception, the No Separate Justice (NSJ) campaign has fought this flawed notion, with mothers and sisters of the accused becoming the movement’s most prominent spokespeople. NSJ initially coalesced around the case of a Muslim American named Fahad Hashmi.

Hashmi had been working toward a master’s degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University when he was arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2006. In 2007 he became the first U.S. citizen to be extradited following the loosening of restrictions around the process after 9/11, according to an article by Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College and co-founder of the NSJ campaign, who taught Hashmi as an undergraduate.

He was initially held in pretrial solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) in downtown Manhattan. MCC’s notoriety was cemented in a 2010 New York Times article that quoted a former Guantanamo detainee, who was also held at the MCC, as saying the Cuban military prison was “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the federal detention facility in New York City.

Hashmi was also subjected to special administrative measures, government restrictions on a terror suspect’s communications that amount to a gag order on the case and their conditions of confinement. Advocates say these were drastic measures relative to the charges against him: Hashmi’s only crime, according to Theoharis’ article, was allowing an acquaintance to spend a night in his apartment, an acquaintance who would later deliver a suitcase of raincoats and waterproof socks to Al Qaeda members. This same acquaintance would later become a cooperating witness for the government in exchange for a more lenient sentence, and testify against Hashmi in a trial that ended with a guilty verdict and a 15-year sentence.

Stunned by Hashmi’s conditions of confinement, a group called Theaters Against War linked arms with Educators for Civil Liberties and the Muslim Justice Initiative to host weekly vigils outside the MCC in 2009. These gatherings, which continue to this day, form the nucleus of the NSJ movement.

“We wanted to build a coalition so people from different backgrounds could bring their institutional expertise and moral conscience into the same arena as family members, and create a space where people could express outrage at what was happening,” Sally Eberhardt, one of NSJ’s earliest organizers, tells Rewire.

At first, larger civil liberties groups kept their distance, possibly because “this isn’t exactly the most funder-friendly issue in the world,” Eberhardt suggests. But advocates persisted, holding candlelight protests even on the bitterest winter nights, singing songs and chanting poems in the shadow of the detention center. Those intimate gatherings formed the basis of what is now a national movement, encompassing multiple organizations and dozens of families.

Two outspoken leaders are the Sadequee sisters, Bangladeshi Americans who have been among the strongest advocates of prisoners’ rights and the most public critics of the government’s targeting of Muslim men—including their brother, Shifa.

From the Streets to the Prayer Rug: Pushing Back Against State Violence

Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee was born in Virginia and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest of four siblings in a Bangladeshi-American family. According to his sisters, he was a curious and exceptionally kind child, who by his early teens had grown into a devout and diligent religious scholar.

In 2005, when he was just 18 years old, Shifa traveled to Bangladesh. In April 2006 he got married, but 12 days after his wedding, Bangladeshi authorities took and detained him, apparently at the behest of the U.S. government, for allegedly making false statements to the FBI at John F. Kennedy Airport on his way to Bangladesh the previous year.

Shifa’s sister Sonali, who is based in Atlanta, tells Rewire that this initial charge and arrest, which the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh later deemed a violation of international laws, was a terrifying process for the entire family. For days after Shifa was taken they had no news of his whereabouts. Fears that he would somehow wind up in Guantanamo, ensnared in the web of the “war on terror,” gnawed at the edges of their minds but the family pushed these aside, telling themselves that because Shifa had done nothing wrong, they had nothing to fear. With the phone ringing off the hook and the television on 24/7, they gleaned what scraps of information they could from CNN news reports.

It transpired that upon his arrest in Bangladesh, Shifa was stripped naked, wrapped in plastic, and flown via Alaska to New York, Sonali says, where he spent over three months at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn before being transferred to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Shifa spent more than three years in pretrial solitary confinement before ever being formally charged with a crime, his sister said.

Once Shifa was inside the criminal justice system, Sonali explains, federal authorities quickly dropped the initial charges against him and began to build a case around allegations of material support.

At the heart of the case was Shifa’s renown as an Islamic scholar with a larger-than-life online persona—he had studied classical Arabic and the history of religion as a student in Canada and was a gifted translator, often sharing interpretations of Islamic or political texts on the internet. The Sadequee family says Shifa’s trial was riddled with shortcomings, including the use of previously classified evidence and the selection of jurors who admitted to having anti-Muslim bias—which Human Rights Watch says is a common problem. In addition, the prosecution used Shifa’s ideology as a brush with which to paint him as a fearsome radical, on the verge of carrying out a violent attack on U.S. soil.

Although Shifa, according to Sonali, never engaged in any actions beyond practicing free speech, he was found guilty on four terrorism counts in 2009 and, at the age of 23, sentenced to 17 years in federal prison. He represented himself at the trial, making him one of the first Muslim youth to do so in a national security case, according to his sisters.

Both Sonali and Sharmin Sadequee, who is based in New York, have been mobilizing on his behalf for over a decade. After years of shielding themselves from the backlash of isolation and Islamophobia that invariably accompanies charges of terrorism, the young women have turned their advocacy into an art form.

In an interview with Rewire, Sonali explains that when her brother was arrested, the women in her family developed an organic division of labor that allowed them to form a united front against the horror and uncertainty that had descended on their lives.

“I was already plugged into the social justice community in Atlanta, so I saw my role as tapping into that support network, bringing resources to my family to make sure we all understood the human rights issues involved, ensuring we had the skills to confront the media, which was bombarding us at the time,” she says. Her sister, meanwhile, dealt with the prisons, navigating bureaucratic visitation rules and ensuring Shifa had what he needed on the inside.

“Sharmin and my mother also reached out to the Muslim community, to mosques and other groups,” Sonali continues. “And the rest of the time, my mother was on the prayer rug. I don’t know how many hours she spent kneeling and praying.”

They built a website that is always fresh with the latest news about Shifa’s case and serves as a hub for their activism—they recently announced a letter-writing campaign to mark Ramadan, inviting more than 1,000 followers of a Justice for Shifa Facebook group to send greeting cards to Muslim prisoners. Countless hours are eaten up attending rallies, speaking on panels, or sitting with reporters, patiently unpacking the messy details of Shifa’s case.

The irony is that while the Sadequee sisters make a powerful team, they are constantly called upon to do what they say is the hardest thing of all: relive a time in their lives they would rather forget.

“I don’t like to do these interviews,” Sonali says bluntly. “I don’t enjoy them at all—but I recognize they have to be done. Only by sharing what happened to us, by talking about it, will others learn from it.”

They say they have been trying to create collective responses to state violence resulting from the “war on terror,” and hope to combat the government’s tactics of fear and isolation by building community power and resiliency. But this is easier said than done: Not only must the Sadequees contend with the lingering stigma of Shifa’s trial, but they also, until very recently, had to deal with the trauma of visiting their brother in a prison unit that has been described by former detainees as “Little Gitmo.”

CMUs: “A Religious and Political Quarantine”

Between 2009 and 2015, Shifa was imprisoned in the Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the federal detention center in Terre Haute, Indiana, a segregated portion of the prison comprised almost exclusively of Muslim men that has been the subject of a legal battle since 2010.

This past March, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reinstate a lawsuit the group first filed six years ago challenging CMUs, which the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) quietly ushered into existence under the Bush administration—the first in 2006 in Indiana, and the second in 2008 in Marion, Illinois.

Conditions in these units, which house 60 to 70 prisoners combined, are harsh, according to the CCR: Although inmates are not held in isolation, they are banned from having any physical contact with family members during visits, and their calls are restricted to two per week, each for 15 minutes. By contrast, other BOP inmates are allowed 300 minutes worth of calls every month.

CCR claims the CMUs violate prisoners’ procedural due process rights, and argue that placement in these units is both arbitrary and retaliatory, with Muslim prisoners vastly overrepresented.

“Between 2006 and 2014, about 170 individuals filtered through these units and 101 of them—about 60 percent—were Muslims, even though Muslims only constitute 6 percent of the general federal prison population,” CCR Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol tells Rewire in a phone interview.

CCR reported in 2010 that in Marion, 72 percent of current CMU prisoners were Muslim, a 1,200 percent overrepresentation, while two-thirds of the CMU population in Terra Haute was Muslim, 1,000 percent higher than the national average of Muslim prisoners in federal facilities.

“We are challenging the lack of procedural protections before prisoners are placed in the CMU and also alleging that placement is in retaliation for protected political and religious speech,” Meeropol says, pointing out that inmates in the CMU are seldom given reasons for why they were moved into the units, and are routinely denied opportunities to earn their release into general population.

“CMUs are essentially a religious and political quarantine, the same kind of segregation that has supposedly been outlawed in this country,” she added.

In response to multiple requests for comment about these allegations, Justin Long with the Office of Public Affairs at the Information, Policy and Public Affairs Division for the BOP said in an email to Rewire, “The Bureau of Prisons cannot comment on matters currently in litigation,” and directed Rewire to the Bureau’s web page on CMUs.

In addition to being hard on inmates, Meeropol says CMUs are also “debilitating” for families, especially those with young children who cannot communicate with their fathers through letters, and often cannot understand why they are forced to speak to them through glass, using phones that are monitored by prison staff.

“Several mothers have told me that they’ve stopped bringing their children on visits because it was just too devastating,” Meeropol says.

The Collective Trauma of “Supermax” Prisons and Solitary Confinement

The alternative, some might say, is even worse. All over the country, Muslim prisoners are serving decades-long sentences in solitary confinement, which the United Nations has recognized as a form of torture. Advocates and relatives of terror suspects, or those incarcerated on terrorism charges, have long cried foul over these conditions of confinement, which they say is a form of collective punishment on entire families.

Zurata Duka, whose three sons, Dritan, Shain, and Eljvir were arrested in a manufactured terror plot by the government in 2007, is well aware of the toll of solitary confinement. Her sons have spent dozens of years between them in complete isolation, including long stints at the maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado.

“My sons are strong—they never let us see them cry, even when their daughters are crying on the other side of the glass,” she says to Rewire. “But once my son Dritan told me he nearly lost his mind in isolation.”

Before his arrest, Zurata tells Rewire, Dritan had been very close with his youngest daughter. Every night he would put her to sleep, stroking her hair and singing lullabies. In those early days after he was taken away, the little girl would lie awake at night, calling out for her father. Unbeknownst to the family, thousands of miles away, Dritan was experiencing something similar.

“He told me, ‘Mom, I don’t know what happened. For three days I just lay there, stroking my pillow, thinking it was [his daughter]. I didn’t know who I was and I don’t know how I came back,’” Zurata recalls him saying.

His daughter was so desperate to see him that one day she penned a note to the president. It read: “Dear Mr. Obama. Today is my birthday. I am five years old. Please, if you can, bring my father back just for one day, so I can hug and kiss him, and then, if you want, you can take him back again.” Zurata says she mailed the letter to the White House. She never heard back.

Almost every family has a similar story. According to Mariam Abu-Ali, conditions of confinement often come up at annual gatherings of affected families, which she organizes in her role as director of the Prisoners and Families Committee at the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms.

“About 90 percent of the attendees are women,” she says in a phone interview with Rewire, “and they bring a lot of pain and anxiety into the room. But I’d say the meetings are cathartic,” she adds. “It’s the place where we build bonds with the only people who know what we’re going through.”

Several women who’ve attended the conference in the past tell Rewire they are powerful spaces, offering families a rare chance to speak openly about their lives without fear of being misunderstood, judged, or pitied. It is also a moment for families, particularly women, to share in the collective nature of their trauma, especially the pain of incarceration.

In the 13 years that her brother has served, Mariam says she has come to the painful realization that prisons don’t just lock up individuals—they are a form of bondage on the entire family.

Because Ahmed Omar is imprisoned 1,600 miles from the family’s home in Virginia, in one of the BOP’s maximum-security facilities in Colorado, they only see him once or twice a year. Visits are limited to three family members at a time, meaning Mariam has not seen Ahmed in two years. He reserves his two monthly phone calls for his parents, so she can only hope to talk to him when she visits them. Even these calls are a source of enormous frustration. As she wrote in a recent op-ed:

My mom has spent every Tuesday and Thursday of the last decade, at home, sitting by the phone, patiently waiting for a call that sometimes did not come. And when the call does come, what can one even discuss in 15 minutes? Do you ask him how he’s doing? How can you even ask him how he’s feeling? Do you discuss his prison conditions? His legal case? How do you break the news to him when his aunt or grandfather has passed away?

“What you have to understand is that my brother’s case wasn’t just one devastating ‘moment’ in our lives—it’s a lifelong struggle,” Mariam tells Rewire. “This is not something you ever get used to, or accept. It’s about learning new ways of coping every single day, like living with a chronic illness.”

Each day brings fresh challenges, and tough decisions. For instance, Mariam used to maintain a website, manage a Facebook page, and post daily updates on a Twitter account all relating to her brother’s case. One day she felt she just couldn’t do it anymore.

“At a point you have to ask yourself—do I work full time and provide for my family or do I advocate full time on behalf of my loved one?” she asks. “This work, it’s emotionally draining, it’s a daily struggle and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with time.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the officials whom Shifa Sadequee had been accused of making false statements to. It was FBI officers, not immigration officials.

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