Cross your fingers, but it looks as if Congress is going to let women in the military rely on health insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. That’s been a long time coming, as Mother Jones reports:
Current Department of Defense policy only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money cannot be used to provide abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman's life is endangered. But since 1979, the DOD has had an even stricter limit on abortions, refusing to cover them in cases of rape despite the high rate of sexual assaults in the military. (Over 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the armed services in 2010 alone.)
If [New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen's measure passes, the 400,000 women in the armed services will have the same access to abortion that other federal employees get. If a Department of Health and Human Services employee working in Washington, D.C. is raped, her government health insurance plan will pay for an abortion if she wants one. But if an Army medic serving in Afghanistan is raped and wants an abortion, she can't use her government health insurance to cover it—she'll have to pay out of her own pocket.
Consider what this has meant. Women in the military are sexually assaulted by their comrades at twice the rate of civilians. According to the Department of Defense, one in three women in the military has been sexually assaulted—and that rate has actually been climbing for the past seven years, according to outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. In October, the Huffington Post reported that a woman in the service was “nearly 180 times more likely to have become a victim of military sexual assault (MSA) in the past year than to have died while deployed during the last 11 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
At the same time, those women have a hard time getting contraception (or any kind of female-specific health items, like tampons). So what happens if they are impregnated by a rape? Kathryn Joyce wrote a moving account of one such woman, denied the medical care she needed after she was raped.
“You hear these legends of coat-hanger abortions,” a 26-year-old former Marine sergeant told me recently, “but there are no coat hangers in Iraq. I looked.”
… From a remove of two years, Amy now sees the sex that resulted in her pregnancy as rape: something that may have qualified her for an on-base (though self-funded) abortion. However, at the time, because the rape wasn’t brutally violent, and because she had seen fellow servicewomen be ostracized for “crying rape” in the past, she imagined nothing but trouble would come of making a complaint.
Joyce reports that the woman took abortifacient herbs to try to halt the pregnancy—and lost so much blood she got extremely ill. Desperate, she ended up telling a military doctor in order to get care. Guess what happened:
The first sergeant came to her hospital room to announce that Amy would be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which addresses violations of general regulations, for having had sex in a war zone.
In other words: In raping her, her attacker banished from the military. And even if Amy had reported the rape and been believed, she still would have had to pay for the surgery out of her own pocket. Does the military require its employees to pay for treatment for any other attack, injury, wound, or illness: gunshot, IEDs, friendly fire, or even syphillis (which presumably means there’s been sex)?
Let’s think about the reasoning behind this by turning, for a moment, to India’s cause of the day: a young female student who was violently gang-raped on a bus, leaving such terrible organization damage that, after five surgeries, her intestines had to be removed. Here’s a summary of the case from journalist Anjana Menon, who writes for CNN Opinion:
Four years ago, a young female journalist driving home from work at 3 a.m. was shot dead in her car in India's capital, New Delhi. The state's chief minister, Sheila Dixit, a woman, remarked that the girl was returning home all by herself "at night in a city where people believe ... you know ... you should not be so adventurous."
This week, a 23-year-old woman, accompanied by a male friend, boarded a bus on a busy road in the capital at 9 p.m., only to be brutally raped by a group of men. She was then savagely beaten, stripped and thrown onto the road. The girl and her friend, who was attacked for trying to protect her, were returning home after watching a movie. She is battling for life in hospital, according to her doctors.
… In cities such as New Delhi, easily the most-policed state in the country, few women will take public or private transport unescorted after nightfall. More than 600 rape cases have been reported in New Delhi alone this year, according to government records.
According to Chaitra Arjunpuri at Al Jazeera,
… an Al Jazeera documentary a few months ago uncovered the ugly truth hidden behind Delhi’s glitzy exterior: some 80 percent of women in a city of 20 million complained of having been sexually harassed. Also, an astonishing four-fifths of all women said they feared for their safety on streets, especially at night.
Apparently, these men were so outraged by her audacity in going freely about her life that they took it upon themselves to punish her—as happens regularly in India. But this particular rape was so shocking—and happened in an urban center instead of in one of the poor provinces, and with a credible male witness—that it has sent thousands into the streets to protest, and garnered outcries from celebrities and politicians alike. They're furious about the larger issue: Across India, women are rampantly groped, grabbed, assaulted, and raped—and blamed for inviting it by acting as if they belong in public.
Now let me connect these two. The horrific gang rape in India, like American rapes of military women, all send this message: You do not belong here. The streets belong to men. The military belongs to men. Go home, or you will be brutalized.
So what has it meant that military women have either had to pay for their own medical or surgical abortions or be drafted into gestating their attacker’s offspring?
Until now, those American women have had to pay for the privilege of being raped.
Perhaps Congress has finally gotten this election cycle’s message: Women are sick of the backlash against our independence. As Hillary Clinton put it so brilliantly last winter, Why do extremists always focus on controlling women? But we all know that abortion can be such a volatile subject that such measures can be derailed at the last minute. Let’s hope that this change in U.S. military policy makes it through.