The military reported 471 rapes of servicemembers in 2011, but the real number is probably higher, since the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office estimates that only about 13.5 percent of all rapes and sexual assaults in the military are actually reported. Several hundred women in the military become pregnant as a result of rape each year. Despite these statistics, the 200,000+ women serving on active duty are often prohibited from getting abortions in military health centers — even if they're willing to use their own money — because it makes some conservative politicians at home feel all icky.
Yes, current Pentagon policy is even more restrictive than the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal funds from being used to provide abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, and endangerment of women's life. The Department of Defense only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake; if she's raped but can survive giving birth, her right to choose essentially goes out the window. If she still wants an abortion, the military might generously allow her to pay for the service with her own money, but only if she can prove she was raped — which is extremely difficult to do, especially within a few months. Without a stamp of rape-approval from the higher-ups, servicewomen (including military spouses and dependents) have to venture off-base for services or fly all of the way back to the United States, all to assuage the fears of politicians — the majority of whom, it's safe to say, are not overseas fighting for their country — that the government would be "endorsing" abortion if military facilities granted women the same rights they have back home.
Multiple reform efforts, including failed proposals from the past two years, have tried to expand abortion access for military women. This year, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is trying again, with more support than ever before. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved her amendment in May, attaching it to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and Republican Senators John McCain, Scott Brown, and Susan Collins all voted in favor of the measure
But some GOP insiders are saying the Shaheen amendment "stands little chance of surviving" because it'll never pass in the House. Is it unrealistically optimistic to imagine that representatives might be swayed by stories like the one Shaheen told Mother Jones about the young woman who was raped and impregnated by a fellow soldier? She couldn't prove it was rape and couldn't find a safe place to have an abortion off-base, so she ended up losing her job. "This is somebody who wanted to make the military her career, and she was ultimately forced out because of a situation that was not of her making," Shaheen said. "Most of the women affected here are enlisted women who are making about $18,000 a year. They're young, they don't have access to a lot of resources. Many of them are overseas." Let's hope that next year stories like hers will seem like relics of a particularly frustrating and idiotic period of time.
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