Taking Care of Our Military Women
Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (Ret.)
As a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Army, who served in combat in Korea and Vietnam, I am fiercely proud of our military and care deeply about issues of national security. While we celebrate our nation’s independence and reflect on our freedom this Fourth of July, I trust that the American people will also remember those who have risked or given their lives for that freedom. And, in the middle of the fireworks and the BBQs, we should also pay tribute to our active-duty personnel and recommit ourselves to supporting and caring for them and their families. Unfortunately, some our laws fall short when it comes to military women.
Today more than 400,000 women serve this country in the armed forces; but if one of these women becomes pregnant, the Defense Department only provides insurance coverage of abortion if a servicewoman's life is at risk. It fails to provide coverage if she is pregnant as a result of rape or incest. This ban on coverage extends to military wives and daughters.
This is a patently unfair policy. Other women who rely on the government for their health care – including federal employees, members of Congress and even prison inmates – are not subject to the same ban on coverage. Instead, they are treated with the compassion they deserve. It is only right that we extend this same compassion to our women in uniform.
Fortunately, there are some in Congress working on a solution. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and strongly supported by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would reverse this policy and ensure that our servicewomen get the care they need in a time of crisis. The Shaheen Amendment, if passed, will bring the military’s health insurance provisions rightfully in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, including Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.
No matter how one feels about abortion, extending the same compassionate coverage that federal employees receive to our nation’s servicewomen is just plain common sense. After surviving sexual violence and rape, a woman must be able to make the best possible decision for herself and her family. A majority of Americans understand that – now we need the majority of Congress to understand that as well.
This is not about politics; this is about treating our nation’s bravest women with dignity. Congress should make passing the Shaheen amendment a priority. The time for this unjust policy to be overturned is long overdue. Our servicewomen deserve nothing less.
Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (Ret.) is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.