Military Women Seeking Abortions Contemplate "Drastic Measures"

It's estimated that between 19,000 and 23,000 servicewomen have unintended pregnancies every year. And as we've already noted, the options for those women who want abortions are far more limited than for the general population. A new study details just what the consequences are.

The study, conducted by Ibis Reproductive Health, interviewed 130 military women (two among them dependents) who had been online seeking information on abortion. They reported anxiety about jeopardizing their careers no matter what course they took.

While each woman had a different story, the rate of sexual assault in the military is at least twice as high as the civilian rate. Currently, no Defense funds can be used for abortion unless the woman's life is at risk; in cases of rape or incest, military hospitals perform abortions but only if women pay for it themselves. Otherwise, the women are on their own, a particularly grim scenario when deployed in a combat zone or in a country where abortion is banned or inaccessible.

In some cases, this means desperation:

A 23-year-old woman stationed in Bahrain wrote about being turned away from five clinics nd that she contemplated taking "drastic measures that would have harmed me in ways I wouldn't like to imagine" (Bahrain 1), and another 24-year old woman desperately wrote, "they will not let me stay here and I
cannot afford to live back home so I'm thinking of doing something real bad; please help me" (Iraq 6). Some women also reported that their careers might be harmed if they were not easily able to obtain an abortion. A few women feared losing rank due to the pregnancy; one woman wrote that the military would not allow her to stay on AD if she were a single parent, and that her career would be lost if she had to have the baby.

The MARCH bill, introduced recently to the Senate, would allow abortion coverage in case of rape and incest and allow women to use private funds at US military facilities.

Abortion Restrictions in the U.S. Military: Voices from Women Deployed Overseas [Women's Health Issues]