Lack of abortion access could hinder military readiness, study says
Stars and Stripes September 14, 2022
Diminished combat readiness, recruitment woes and lower retention are among the factors the Pentagon could face now that nearly half of active-duty servicewomen live in states that have severely curtailed abortion access, a new policy study says.
“The possible costs to (the Defense Department) are wide-ranging,” the nonpartisan research group Rand Corp. wrote this month, in an analysis of the potential effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that eliminated federal abortion protections, leaving all such decisions up to individual states.
The result of the ruling is that 40% of active-duty servicewomen in the U.S. will have very limited access to abortion services where they are stationed or no access at all, Rand said.
Additionally, nearly 43% of civilian women in the Defense Department’s workforce are in the same situation, according to the report.
“Ultimately, the most important effect might be a decrease in force readiness and our national security,” Rand said.
Between 5,000 and 7,400 active-duty servicewomen and DOD civilian women seek abortion services in any given year, according to a Rand estimate that relied on various Pentagon health surveys.
Given that many of the military’s largest bases are in states where abortion has been either banned outright, such as Texas, or restricted, the Pentagon will need to assess the implications, the report said.
As of July, 21 states restrict abortion care. States that have instituted a ban or severe abortion restrictions and also have large military installations include Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Arizona, Rand said.
North Carolina and Virginia also have large active-duty populations and are considering changes to their abortion laws, the report stated.
The Pentagon’s options are limited when it comes to dealing with the possible negative effects.
Federal law prohibits abortions on military installations in cases other than pregnancy from rape or incest or when a mother’s life is in danger. As a result, DOD may need to focus efforts on ramping up conception education and awareness programs, Rand said.
About 63% of servicewomen who had an unintended pregnancy were not using any form of contraception just before the pregnancy, according to Rand. And 32.8% were using a form of contraceptive “that is not considered to be highly effective.”
“Efforts to lower the unintended pregnancy rates among service women and DoD civilians could both reduce the demand for abortion and improve reproductive health,” the report said.
If more unintended pregnancies are carried to term, DOD will need to provide care to those women during and after pregnancy and anticipate higher demand for child care and education, Rand said.
Meanwhile, there will be an inevitable operational impact because pregnant women in the military often have duty restricted and can’t deploy, according to the report.
“Although there is an individual cost to pregnant women in terms of medical readiness, there is a collective cost to operational readiness,” Rand said.