New bill would lift ban on federal coverage of abortion for U.S. servicewomen in cases of rape or incest

Created: June 07, 2011 11:43 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Two Democratic lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would authorize federally-funded abortions for women in the military who have been impregnated as the result of rape.

The proposed legislation comes soon after the House passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which if passed by the Senate — where the bill has gone nowhere since it was placed on the Senate Calendar in early May — would ban tax subsidies for private health insurance plans that offer abortion services and prohibit women from deducting abortion as a medical expense in most cases.

However, even if the “No Taxpayer Funding” bill becomes federal law, there will be exemptions: women who have been raped, become pregnant through incestuous relations or whose lives would be endangered by childbirth. These exemptions have held consistent in attempts to ban federal funding of abortion, except when it comes to women in the military.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health Act (MARCH) on June 2 and made a formal announcement Monday, which was first picked up by FoxNews.com. The bill text for House Resolution 2085 is not yet available on the Library of Congress’ website, but according to Govtrack.us, the proposed legislation would amend the United States Code to lift the Department of Defense’s ban on federal funding of abortion in the event of rape or incest and would allow military-run health care facilities to provide abortions, in most cases, to women who used private funds.

“As our servicewomen risk their lives defending our country, it is deeply unfair that they are denied the rights of the Constitution that they defend,” said Slaughter in a press release posted on both the lawmakers’ websites. “Imagine being a victim of rape on a United States military base overseas being denied the abortion coverage, and then having to turn to a potentially unsafe local facility. It’s preposterous and incredibly unjust to the women who serve our country so proudly each day.”

Slaughter and Gillibrand argue that rape victims in the military should be entitled to the same abortion coverage that are given to other federal employees, as well as women who receive health care services though Medicare and Indian Health Services. In defense of their bill, the New York lawmakers cite Department of Defense statistics showing more than 3,000 reported sexual assaults in fiscal year 2010 (PDF).

MARCH would also allow servicewomen to use private funds to access abortion services at U.S. military facilities, a previously allowed practice that was rescinded by the Department of Defense in 1988 under the Reagan administration. Under President Bill Clinton, this ban was lifted in 1993 and then reinstituted in 1996 after Congress barred privately-funded abortion procedures at DoD facilities, though there was an exception for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Currently, military women who seek abortions must use local facilities if they are overseas or they must request combat leave to have an abortion in the U.S. or a different country. A similar measure was introduced last year by former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) but was heavily opposed by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“We must put an end to this egregious injustice and allow our women in uniform to exercise their right to reproductive health care,” Gillibrand said.

The bill, which currently has 39 cosponsors, awaits action in the House Committee on Armed Services.