By Meaghan MacDougall
CONTENT WARNING: This article contains sensitive material related to abortion and sexual crimes/abuse. Discretion is advised. The Army is drafting a new policy that ensures the right to abortion for their female troops if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. Sergeant Major Michael Grinston of the Army testified on Thursday, May 12, 2022, to the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Military Construction and Related Agencies. He stated that various Army officials are working in collaboration on the drafts. The officials include the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, personnel officials, and the Sergeant Major’s office.

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Aside from the hearing, eight separate Democratic Senators wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Led by Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, the letter was sent to urge Austin to ensure female troops "have the ability to continue accessing safe reproductive health care no matter where in the nation their military service sends them." Lawmakers also included in the letter that the “potential ban on abortion services would consequently hurt the recruitment and retention of women soldiers.”

The Army Abortion Policy Today

[embed]https://twitter.com/MilitaryTimes/status/1524829262418743297?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw[/embed] As of today, Army abortion regulation bars military doctors from performing abortions under many circumstances, with the exception of when the mother’s life is at risk or if the pregnancy is a result of r*pe or incest. This is because of the Hyde Amendment of 1976, which bans federal funding from being used for pregnancy termination services, meaning female troops have to go off base to get reproductive care. “Women in the military already have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies than civilian women. Currently, the Defense Health Agency has the limited authority to only provide abortions in the cases of r*pe, incest or danger to a woman’s life,” D-Fla, chairwoman of the subcommittee Debbie Wasserman Schultz stated. According to Defense Department estimates, the majority of women serving in the military are of reproductive age, 95% to be exact. According to lawmakers, research also shows that women in the military have a 50% higher rate of unplanned pregnancy than the general population. Officials are concerned that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, their female troops who live in restricted states will no longer have a right to abortion. Experts and advocates have been warning that overturning Roe v. Wade could be exceptionally hard on female troops, especially those who cannot choose where they are stationed.

Female Troops’ Access to Reproductive Care Now

Those based in restricted states will have to ask for leave from their commanders to travel out of state to access safe reproductive healthcare. Studies show that soldiers who’ve had to do so in the past were concerned about their confidentiality and the negative effects this may have on their careers. Women in the military have had a wide range of consequences from not disclosing their abortions to their commanding officers because of their desire to obtain confidentiality. Female soldiers have stated that because of this, they weren’t able to follow the medical guidelines after the abortion, they were subjected to unsafe health care, and there were negative impacts on their careers. Associate at Ibis Reproductive Health Kate Grindlay Kelly states, “If a servicewoman now has to travel out of state for abortion care, the financial and logistical demands escalate and can put abortion care out of reach for many, especially more junior military personnel who may not have the financial resources to cover the costs or the perceived ability to request the even longer time off.”

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Women’s Experiences Finding Reproductive Health Care

Qualitative research was recently conducted to provide insight on abortion in the Army. The goal was to gain an understanding of the experiences women have had while seeking reproductive healthcare in the Army. Many women have had to travel about an hour each way to reach a reproductive health clinic; six women said there’s a logistical burden in having to travel off base, and two stated that their appointments were delayed or rescheduled due to inflexible work schedules. Not factoring in the financial and logistical challenges, medical confidentiality is oftentimes difficult to obtain and keep. Kelley states that, “Confidentiality also becomes harder to maintain when a woman has to travel long distances and take even more time off from her military responsibilities.” The draft policy to ensure female troops a right to abortion won’t be considered until the results of the debate over Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the draft policy will be presented to the Secretary of the Army. From there, the Secretary of the Army will make the decision on whether or not the policy will go into play.

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reproductive healthcare
right to abortion
roe v wade

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