February 26, 2013 — Although the latest Department of Defense authorization law extended abortion coverage to military women and their dependents in cases of rape and incest, the impact on servicewomen will depend on details in rules that are still being drafted, Stars and Stripes reports (Montgomery, Stars and Stripes, 2/24).
The new coverage, which became law last month, brings the military's coverage of abortion in line with insurance plans offered to federal employees and other women who get their insurance through the federal government (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/4).
Reproductive-rights advocates have hailed the provision as an important advancement for women in the military. However, the way the military decides to implement the policy will determine how readily women can use the coverage. Austin Camacho -- a spokesperson for TRICARE, the military's health plan -- said it would take months to formulate guidance on the new law.
One of the many questions that remain is how it will be established that a pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. It is unclear whether the woman would have to file a police report that could trigger a criminal investigation or identify the individual who assaulted her.
Many women do not report assaults to authorities, in part because of the lack of privacy that accompanies notifying higher-ranked officials, according to Stars and Stripes. DOD estimates that about 19,000 sexual assaults took place in the military in 2010, about 25% of which were rapes, although it is unknown how many pregnancies resulted from rapes in the military.
Another factor is where women would obtain abortions, which presents a particular challenge for servicewomen stationed in locations without abortion providers or where the procedure is prohibited by local laws. It also is uncertain whether the government would provide transportation off base, or if military physicians would be trained to offer the procedure, Stars and Stripes notes. Military health care facilities since 1988 have been barred from providing abortions, except when a woman's life is in danger or in cases of rape when paid for with private funds.
In the last decade, military facilities have performed just four abortions annually, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Office report. According to the report, doctors cited lack of training, workload, personal beliefs and command opposition for not providing abortions (Stars and Stripes, 2/24).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership