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With the Majority of Military Pregnancies Unintended, Abortion Issue Raised Again in Congress
WASHINGTON — With more than half of all pregnancies unintended among female troops, the explosive issue of abortions is again being reviewed by Congress. In the latest salvo in that ongoing battle, New York’s Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, are proposing legislation to allow female troops to get an abortion at military hospitals at their own expense or have abortion covered in cases of rape or incest.
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In a study published in the journal Contraception earlier this year, researchers examining the 2005 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel found that 54% of pregnancies among women in the military are unintended. (See related article) Study authors noted that unintended pregnancy, which occurs at a rate of 117 per 1,000 military women, not only is challenging for the mother but also can affect troop morale and readiness.
Currently, DoD funds cannot be used to perform abortions, except where the life of the mother may be endangered if the fetus were carried to term. Privately-funded abortions at military facilities are permitted only when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
Under the proposed legislation, the ban preventing troops from using private funds to have abortions at U.S. military facilities would be lifted, while, in cases of rape or incest, the proposed bill would lift the statutory ban that prohibits health-care coverage for abortion care.
Abortion at Military Facilities
The issue of abortions in military clinics has been hotly debated for decades. A 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the subject noted that from August 31,1976, to August 31, 1977, approximately 26,000 abortions were performed in military hospitals or in CHAMPUS, the precursor to TRICARE.
In 1979, however, a law was passed that prohibited DoD from using federal funds for abortion services at military hospitals in almost all cases. According to the CRS report, military hospitals overseas still reportedly performed approximately 1,300 private-pay abortions in FY1979. These abortions were reportedly allowed because, at certain overseas locations, safe civilian facilities were not always available to perform the procedure.
In the 1980s, the abortion ban was extended and women were prohibited from obtaining abortion care at overseas military facilities with private funds.
In 1993, President Clinton lifted the ban on privately-funded abortion services at military medical facilities. Despite Clinton’s actions, abortions were not performed very often at military medical facilities in the continental U.S. or in military facilities abroad, according to the CRS report, in part because “the military has had a difficult time finding health care professionals in uniform willing to perform the procedure.”
Later, Congress reversed Clinton’s military law abortion changes and instituted what is current DoD policy regarding abortions.
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