News Law and Policy

Senate Armed Services Committee Votes to End Military Ban on Insurance Coverage of Abortion Care for Rape and Incest

Jodi Jacobson

The Senate Armed Services passed an amendment today to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would end the ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for military women and dependents who experience rape or incest. 

A change was made to this article at 11:37 a.m. on May 24th, 2012 to correct an error and clarify portions of existing law. The changes are apparent in the piece itself.

The Senate Armed Services passed an amendment today to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would end the ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for military women and dependents who experience rape or incest. 

The amendment was introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). In November 2011, anti-choice senators refused to allow the Shaheen amendment to come to the floor, so the 2012 NDAA was signed into law with the ban in place. Today’s vote affects the FY 2013 NDAA.

There are some 400,000 women in the United States Armed Forces; they and their families receive health care and insurance through the Department of Defense’s Military Health System. The department currently denies coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike other federal bans on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for insurance coverage in cases of rape and incest.

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As a result, those seeking safe abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. But because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortion care, it is not actually available to military women in need even under the narrow conditions technically allowed.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the current law says the following:

10 USC 1093(a) says “Restrictions on Use of Funds: funds available to the DoD may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”  

and

10 USC 1090(b) says “Restriction of Use of Facilities: no medical treatment facility or other facility of the DoD may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”  

The first is referred to as “the rape and incest insurance coverage ban,” and the second “the facilities ban.”

Taken together, here is what they mean for service women: 

  • If your life is endangered, you can have an abortion on a military treatment facility and the government will pay for it. 
  • If you’re pregnant because of rape or incest, you can have the abortion on a military treatment facility but there is no Department of Defense insurance coverage available to cover the procedure (i.e. you have to pay for it yourself).
  • If you need an abortion for any other reason (e.g. the condom breaks, fetal anomaly, etc ), too bad – can’t do it on a military treatment facility and DoD won’t pay for it.

As a result, servicewomen who are pregnant due to rape are left uncovered, and servicewomen facing an unintended pregnancy from contraceptive failure or unprotected sex are often forced to choose between taking leave and traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility (if abortion is legal and they are not in a combat zone), having an unsafe procedure, or attempting to self-induce an abortion.

The Shaheen Amendment, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, would address one of these issues by bringing the military’s health insurance policy in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and as a result enable  servicewomen to receive insurance coverage for abortion care.  (Another amendment, the MARCH Act, which has not been passed, would address both pieces by ensuring funding for rape and incest (i.e. Shaheen Amendment) and enabling women to access safe abortion on base for any reason, though this would be paid out of pocket with no DoD funds involved (this latter portion comes originally from the Burris amendment 2010). 

The Shaheen amendment is strongly supported by military leaders, physicians, and servicewomen themselves.  

“Women who put their lives on the line fighting for our freedom shouldn’t be denied reproductive health care services,” said Gale Pollock, Major General, US Army (Ret.).

“The Shaheen Amendment restores fairness to discriminatory legislation that denies servicewomen access to the healthcare they need. At the very least, our servicewomen deserve the same level of coverage as other women who rely on the government for their health care.”

“Servicewomen promise to support and defend the Constitution and our country,” said Cindy McNally, Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force (Ret.). “It’s unconscionable to turn our backs on them in their time of need. We owe it to them — and to ourselves — to get this one right.”

“The Shaheen amendment is greatly needed. It’s simply unfair to deny our military women the same abortion coverage that other government employees have,” said Dennis Laich, Major General, US Army (Ret.). “Our servicewomen fight every day for us – it’s time we fight for them.” 

“This is about equity,” said Senator Shaheen. “Civilian women who depend on the federal government for health insurance – whether they are postal workers or Medicaid recipients – have the right to access affordable abortion care if they are sexually assaulted. It is only fair that the thousands of brave women in uniform fighting to protect our freedoms are treated the same.”

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.

News Law and Policy

House GOP Blocks Troops’ Abortion Care Access

Christine Grimaldi

“This issue is important because so many of our service members who get pregnant, who need an abortion, are finding themselves in really dangerous situations,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).

An effort to lift the ban prohibiting military facilities from providing on-site abortion care failed Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Marc Veasey (D-TX) sought to enable service members and their dependents to pay out of pocket for abortion care at defense medical facilities (MTFs). Under federal law enacted in 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense cannot provide abortion care at such facilities, even if a pregnant person shoulders the cost, except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the pregnant person’s life.

Speier during a marathon markup introduced the amendment in the House Armed Services Committee, which considered legislation (HR 4909) setting the fiscal year 2017 parameters for national defense. The National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional association of abortion providers, sent the committee a provider letter and coalition letter in support of lifting the ban on abortion care in MTFs. NARAL Pro-Choice America offered support via a fact sheet.

The amendment failed by a vote of 37 to 25.

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Speier, prior to the House Armed Services Committee’s vote on her amendment, faulted federal law for preventing service members from exercising the same constitutional right to an abortion as the civilians they protect.

“This issue is important because so many of our service members who get pregnant, who need an abortion, are finding themselves in really dangerous situations,” Speier said.

Service members stationed across the United States face significant hurdles in obtaining abortion care. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota restricts service members to travel boundaries, but the nearest abortion provider falls outside of that range, Speier said.

“Additionally, challenges both domestically and internationally include disclosing personal health information to their commanding officer in order to travel off base; approval by the unit commander, which might take days or weeks; the need to seek approval of mileage pass; limited or no access to a car; and local facilities abroad that are substandard, unsafe, or have language barriers,” she said. “Members, this is just the right thing to do for our service members.”

Republicans on the committee disagreed. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), the lawmaker behind the anti-choice misinformation campaign to ban so-called sex-selective and race-selective abortions, was among those who condemned the amendment.

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) touted the exceptions to abortion access codified in federal law. He claimed that many active duty health-care providers would opt out of performing the abortions, forcing the military to hire civilian providers and invest in equipment at the expense of taxpayers. “This will, in effect, create a government-run Planned Parenthood on all of the military bases,” he said.

Fleming said no one is preventing a service member from going off base and using the “great transportation” available to access the abortion facilities that exist in every state. But a recent investigation found that abortion clinics nationwide are shuttering at a dramatic rate.

As a result of state-level targeted regulation of abortion providers laws and, in some instances, anti-choice violence, a Bloomberg report found that at least 162 clinics that provided abortion services have either closed or stopped offering abortion since 2011, with 21 clinics opening during that time. The clinics have closed in 35 states home to a combined population of 30 million women of reproductive age. Missouri is one of five states with only one abortion clinic, as anti-choice state laws have closed all but the Planned Parenthood St. Louis clinic.

Veasey rebutted Fleming by citing the hurdles he has witnessed firsthand after the Texas state legislature passed the “draconian” HB 2. The law has left the state with one legal abortion provider for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. “This burden would be huge on the military women in the state of Texas,” Veasey said.

Speier is a vocal pro-choice advocate in the House. She serves on the GOP-led House select panel targeting fetal tissue research and consistently criticizes the panel’s tactics, as her Republican colleagues continue to rely on the widely discredited smear videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

“You know, this hearing belongs in a bad episode of House of Cards,” Speier said during last week’s inquiry into fetal tissue “pricing.” Republican lawmakers during the hearing repeatedly referred to the sale of “baby body parts” even though an independent third party disproved the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress videos.

NAF officials slammed the anti-choice lawmakers who blocked the amendment.

“This ban on abortion care in MTFs will continue to harm service women and their families until anti-abortion lawmakers allow a women and her doctor, not politicians and JAG Officers [the legal branch concerned with military justice and law], to decide when and where she will be able to obtain the medical care she needs,” NAF President and Chief Executive Officer Vicki Saporta said in a statement. “The House Armed Services Committee should be working to expand access to health care for our service women and their families, not continuing to restrict it.”