There are currently more than 400,000 women serving this country in the armed forces. They do so with bravery and commitment every day, which should come as no surprise. What you may not know and what is shamefully true is that they do not have the same health care coverage as their civilian counterparts.
I served in the Army for 36 years, culminating as the acting surgeon general and commander of the Army Medical Department and the 22nd chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Even now, though I am retired, I continue to care deeply about issues affecting the health of our troops.
The issue here is fairness and ensuring that our servicewomen are cared for. Women in the military should have the same coverage as the civilians they protect. Period. Civilian women who obtain their health care through federal programs such as the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, Medicaid, Medicare, Indian Health Services and federal prisons all receive abortion coverage in cases of rape.
The United States provides health care and insurance for members of the armed forces and their families but, unlike other federal employee insurance programs, the military insurance program denies coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. This leaves servicewomen and military dependents who endure sexual assault and become pregnant to fend for themselves. I, and no doubt many others, am disheartened that our servicewomen and military wives and daughters lack the same insurance coverage civilian women have during such a traumatizing period of their lives.
On top of this injustice, servicewomen are also three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than civilian women, putting their risk for an unintentional pregnancy higher than average. We cannot allow servicewomen who are the victims of rape to seek unsafe alternatives because their health care plan does not cover abortion. Women who put their lives on the line for our freedom shouldn’t be denied proper and safe reproductive health services.
No matter how each of us feels about abortion, a majority of Americans understand that, when faced with the aftermath of sexual violence and rape, a woman must be able to make the best decision for herself and her family. Only the most extreme opponents of abortion would deny a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape that opportunity.
Thankfully, there are members of the Senate who are working to change current policy and restore basic fairness. Last month, during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that would give servicewomen the same health care coverage as other federal workers.
This is not about politics; this is about the health care of our nation’s bravest women. Our servicewomen promise to support and defend the Constitution and our country. It is only fair that we support and defend them so they can make their own health care decisions. She fights for us; it shouldn’t be too much to ask members of Congress to stand up for her.
Gale S. Pollock is a retired Army major general.