The Fight For Abortion Access For Military Women

Jessica Kenyon found out she was pregnant when she was summoned by her army commander in Korea and told she would be charged with adultery. In fact, Kenyon says, she'd been raped by another soldier. And the only way to get an abortion would be to leave the country.

Under current Department of Defense policy, servicemembers and their families can't use their insurance to pay for abortions. A separate policy prohibits abortions from being performed in military facilities even when using private funds.

Kenyon's options were few. "I wasn't ready to handle a child, especially a child produced that way," she told me. With few exceptions, abortion is illegal in South Korea. In desperation, she began asking EMTs for home remedies to induce abortion.

She hadn't previously reported the rape, after having been ostracized and blamed when she reported her instructor for sexual harassment back in the States. "That case was handled so badly that reputation of being a squealer from his harassment followed me to Korea," she told me.

In fact, the first thing the sergeant in Korea told her was that he'd been warned about her. "Reporting a sexual assault in the military is a career ender at this point," Kenyon said. "Even if they don't forcibly take you out, they will make the rest of your career a living hell. (She is currently a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Department of Defense for how it treats victims of sexual assault.)

In the end, Kenyon wasn't charged with adultery, because she informed the military she had recently divorced. But she did have to go home to get an abortion, effectively ending her military career. (She received an honorable discharge.) Once in the States, she had a miscarriage.

Kenyon now runs online support networks for sexually assaulted servicemembers, and is working with the ACLU in its fight to help military women access at least some abortion care. "Women who put their lives on the line, often in combat zones that are hostile to women, are denied the same level of care as those whose freedoms they're fighting to protect," the ACLU notes.

Last week, Rep. Susan Davis and other Democrats introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would add a rape exception to military insurance policies. But it died in the Republican-controlled Rules committee before it could be debated. Efforts are now moving to the Senate.

Says Kenyon, "As if being raped in that type of environment isn't bad enough, to not have options to keep your sanity or career in the military is insane to me." She's not the only one.

Critics: Military Should Cover Abortion After Rape [AP]
Lift the Bans: U.S. Servicewomen Denied Essential Abortion Care [ACLU]