Raped Servicewomen Deserve Insurance Coverage for Abortion

LAS VEGAS - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada is calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring a vote to the Senate floor that would consider providing abortion services for military women in cases of rape or incest.

In 1984, Congress barred military women from using their health care coverage to access abortion services, even when their pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. After meeting with a female veteran who was raped while serving overseas and became pregnant, Senator Shaheen (NH), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867), which would allow servicewomen and their dependents to get insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Under current law, other women who rely on federal insurance programs, such as federal employees, women enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare, and women in prison, are all permitted to use their insurance to cover the costs of an abortion in cases of rape. Military servicewomen, however, are excluded from this coverage.

“Our servicewomen deserve better,” said Staci Pratt, ACLU of Nevada Legal Director. “Many risk their lives abroad, often in countries where the oppression of women contrasts so harshly with our expectations for a society governed by the principles of equality and fairness. This legislation would simply bring military policy in line with other federal insurance programs.”

According to Lawrence Korb, former assistant Secretary of Defense from 1981 to 1985, “The issue of abortion coverage is especially important because the incidence of sexual violence in the armed services persists. Despite the Pentagon's no-tolerance policy toward sexual assault, more than 3,000 cases were reported last year. The overwhelming majority of victims were women under the age of 25 and from junior enlisted ranks. In fact, the actual rates of assault are estimated to be at least four times higher because women often do not report such abuse out of concern that it could negatively affect or even destroy their careers.” (Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2011).

The U.S. Senate is, at this very moment, working on the defense bill to which this amendment would be attached. The ACLU of Nevada urges Senator Reid to bring the Shaheen amendment to the Senate floor for a vote to recognize that, in the United States, we support the health and recovery of servicewomen who are victims of sexual assault.