Standing up for Servicewomen

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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Well. It’s about time:

Washington, D.C. – Congressional conferees have approved a repeal of a policy in place since 1981 that denied women in the military coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest. An effort led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will put Department of Defense rules in line with other federal policies and ensure that women in uniform receive the same reproductive rights as the civilians they protect.

Most of you know by now that I am an active advocate for military women. I also believe in and support women’s abortion and reproductive rights. Although I would rather not see women use abortion as a birth control method, I do know that accidents happen and in some cases abortion seems the only option. This is especially true in cases of rape or incest, where the trauma of the event is exacerbated by an unwanted pregnancy.

Unlike others who rely on the government for their health care needs, including federal workers, members of Congress, and prison inmates, military women — including military wives and daughters — cannot get coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest. The Sheehan Amendment is trying to bring equality to the health care needs of military women.

Pregnancy can be a joyous occasion if it is planned. If it is not, it can appear to be a catastrophe. Additionally, in the past unfair rules applied to pregnant service women. Prior to 1975, military women were forced out of the military if they got pregnant while on active duty, regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy. And there was little to no option for abortion prior to 1973 with the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade anywhere in the United States. Since then, the services have come to the conclusion that motherhood and military service are not mutually exclusive, but abortion rights for unwanted pregnancy did not come with that change.

The Shaheen Amendment still must make it through the full Senate vote, and then be reconciled with the House version of the National Defense Authorization Bill. So it is not a done deal. Here is what several high ranking people are saying in support of the Amendment:

No matter how one feels about abortion, extending the same compassionate coverage that federal employees receive to our nation’s servicewomen is just plain common sense. After surviving sexual violence and rape, a woman must be able to make the best possible decision for herself and her family. A majority of Americans understand that – now we need the majority of Congress to understand that as well. This is not about politics; this is about treating our nation’s bravest women with dignity.

— Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (Ret.), Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

I support the Shaheen Amendment because we need to be able to look our warriors in the eye and say “I will take care of you.” When we do not fully take care of or fully protect any one sector of our troops, then we aren’t doing our jobs as citizens, nor honoring the sacrifices they make on our behalf. This Memorial Day week, the Senate Armed Services Committee took a step in doing the right thing. Our warriors deserve absolutely no less!

— Chief Master Sergeant Cindy McNally, USAF (Ret.)

Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line for us every day and we should provide them with the best medical care possible. It’s a matter of trust between the American people and those who serve.

— Major General Dennis Laich, United States Army, Retired

In addition, the following military leaders have signed a letter supporting the Shaheen Amendment:

Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA, Ret.)
Major General Donna Barbisch, DHA, MPH (USA, Ret.)
Major General Dennis Laich (USA, Ret.)
Major General Gale S. Pollock (USA, Ret.)
Brigadier General Clara L. Adams-Ender, RN, MS, FAAN (USA, Ret.)
Rear Admiral Rabbi Harold L. Robinson (USN, Ret.)
Lieutenant General Dirk Jameson (USAF, Ret.)
Lieutenant General James M. Thompson (USA, Ret.)
Major General Nancy Adams, RN, MSN, FAAN (USA, Ret.)
Brigadier General Julia J. Cleckley (ARNG, Ret.)
Captain Dwayne Oslund, USN (Ret.)
Captain Joellen Drag Oslund, USNR (Ret.)
Colonel Michael E. Pheneger, USA (Ret.)
Captain Glenna L. Tinney, MSW, ACSW, DCSW, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Lieutenant Colonel Sherry M. de Vries, USMC (Ret.)

My thoughts coincide with these supporters. Let’s hope the whole Congress will get together to support our military women.