Bradenton Herald (USA), August 13, 2004
Groups debate results of military
One of President Clinton's first acts after taking
office in 1993 was to lift a ban on abortions
at U.S. military hospitals, giving servicewomen
access to a procedure that had been available
to civilians for 20 years.
Two years later, the new Republican-controlled
Congress reinstituted the ban, which remains
in effect today as scores of soldiers become
pregnant on the battlefield.
Now, with lengthy deployments in a military that
is 15 percent female and with revelations of
sexual assault in the armed forces, critics
say it's time for a change.
The exceptions to the abortion ban - first instituted
by President Reagan in 1988 - are those to
save a woman's life or to end pregnancies resulting
from rape or incest. Four such procedures were
performed at military facilities in the 2003
fiscal year ending last September, according
to the Department of Defense.
Even in cases of rape and incest, military health
insurance doesn't cover the procedure, which
costs from $325 to $650 in the first 12 weeks
of pregnancy, according to the Planned Parenthood
Legislators have tried several times to amend
the law, most recently in May, when Congress
rejected a proposal to permit military facilities
to provide abortions on request to patients
willing to pay.
Abortion-rights activists vow to try again. But
in the meantime, they say pregnant soldiers
in countries where private clinics don't offer
abortions, such as the Middle East and Afghanistan,
are caught in a bind.
The military, and many service members themselves,
offer many counterarguments, one that says
with restrictions on sexual relations in combat
zones and with birth control available, deployed
soldiers should not get pregnant.
But it's clear that birth control and no-sex
rules aren't working.
In Iraq and Kuwait alone, the Army said 163 of
its soldiers had become pregnant as of June
17. It did not have numbers for Afghanistan
or other areas of deployment.
A 1999 study of Army pregnancies and their impact
on military readiness said, on average, from
5 percent to 6 percent of Army women were pregnant
at any given time.
The Air Force and Marines said they do not track
pregnancies. The Navy did not respond to requests
for the information.
Defense Department spokesman James Turner said
the military is bound by federal law to uphold
the abortion ban, and that it is not in the
business of providing what it considers elective
procedures such as abortions.
That doesn't stop the military from offering
service members vasectomies and cosmetic surgery,
including liposuction, breast implants and
In the case of cosmetic surgery, at least, that's
because such operations are not necessarily
elective, Turner said. Rather, they are aimed
at keeping military surgeons up to date in
reconstructive surgery, a crucial element in
treating combat wounds.
Abortions offer no such payoff, said retired
Army Sgt. Pauline F. Keehn, who writes on issues
affecting military women and helps run Militarywoman.org,
a Web site dedicated to the topic.
Keehn supports abortion rights, but not in the
armed forces. She joined the Army in 1971,
when abortions were permitted at military hospitals.
At first, she supported the idea.
"But as I saw the complications it caused
. . . I was glad to see the restrictions placed
on abortions," she said, noting such things
as the need for additional OB-GYNs, not generally
a high priority in the field.
"There are enough problems already surrounding
the issue of pregnancy and its effect on deployment.
Add the equation of those who choose abortion,
and you have a logistical nightmare waiting
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