Are Women In The Military Being Denied Equal Access to Health Care?


Military servicewomen are being denied the right to adequate reproductive and sexual health care that they have fought and died for, a new report says.

The report, released in late July by the Center for American Progress, raises questions about whether servicewomen are truly treated as equals in the military. It portrays a military health care system with gaps that “are not only unfair and unjust, but … also costly, inefficient, and counterproductive.”

The report acknowledges that most of these gaps result from laws and policies that the military is required to follow. However, military culture also poses barriers to servicewomen’s health care.

The barriers to care “range from inconsistent gynecological care to inadequate access to family-planning methods to serious invasions of privacy.”

For instance, coverage of contraceptive care is incomplete and subpar compared to the coverage legally afforded to civilian women under the Affordable Care Act. Forms of contraception that require the least frequent application --- such as Depo-Provera, the Nuva Ring, and intrauterine devices --- are not required to be carried by military installations. This greatly increases the difficulty of maintaining contraceptive care during military deployments, when servicewomen may be subjected to chaotic work schedules, a relative lack of hygiene opportunities, and sparse treatment facilities.

In one anecdote, servicewomen were instructed by commanders to purchase their own contraception through the private health care system prior to deployment, only to find that their prescriptions could not be refilled overseas.

Cultural beliefs, namely the outdated presumption that service members will remain abstinent during military service, also obstruct access to contraceptive coverage. Despite a sexually transmitted disease rate seven times higher than the civilian population, servicewomen fear that they will be labeled promiscuous or accused of violating regulations against sexual activity if they request or are found in possession of condoms.

The report slams abortion policy as “the most systematically restricted form of reproductive and sexual care in the military.” Under current law, abortions are banned on military facilities except in cases of life-threatening complications, rape, and incest. In all other circumstances, servicewomen are denied access to abortion services including counseling, even if they are willing and able to pay out of pocket.

The consequences of this restriction are made worse by the military’s ongoing struggle to stop retaliation against reporters of rape and sexual assault. In the absence of life-threatening complications, servicewomen are denied access to abortion services unless the pregnancy results from rape or incest. But in order to seek an abortion in the narrow exception of rape, a servicewoman needs to be willing to report the rape.

Military abortions are further restricted by foreign policy. Since the era of President Richard Nixon, U.S. policy for overseas bases has been to follow the abortion laws of host countries. For thousands of servicewomen stationed in conservative countries, the only options are to request an immediate flight to the United States, take self-inducing abortion medication, or seek an illicit abortion.

In 2008, the lack of information, contraceptive care, and abortion services contributed to a military pregnancy rate 50% higher than the rate in the civilian population. The report cautions that this high rate of unintended pregnancy, combined with stigmas against sexual activity, pregnancy, and abortion, incentivizes servicewomen to seek dangerous illicit abortions.

The cost of these policies to the military is unclear. The report mostly relies on logical inference to support its claim that restricting reproductive and sexual health care makes the military less mission effective.

It also recommends several measures to Congress and the military to close the gaps in care. Some of the recommendations urge Congress to pass existing legislation.

The Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act, introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, would ensure that “a broad range of methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration” are provided to servicewomen free of charge.

The MARCH for Military Women Act, introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, would lift the ban on abortion services in military facilities.

Removal of the chain of command’s authority to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases would help ease the decision of service members of both genders to report rape and sexual assault. Although the report does not name specific legislation, companion bills introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, and by Rep. Dan Benishek, a Republican from Michigan, would transfer this authority to independent military prosecutors.

The report also urges the military to provide timely gynecological screenings and follow-up care for deploying servicewomen, comprehensive contraceptive counseling to male and female service members, and “fair and reasonable accommodations” to servicewomen who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, among other recommendations.

The report comes at a critical juncture in military personnel policy. More than 11% of veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were women, illustrating the need for equality in comprehensive health care. The pending integration of women into the military’s combat arms will add further complexity to the challenge of meeting the health care needs of a modern force. By January 2016, more than 200,000 new positions may open to women in occupations that tend to deploy in the most austere conditions with irregular access to medical care.

To ensure the development of a motivated, resilient, and healthy integrated military, Congress and the Department of Defense should implement the report’s recommendations.

Jason Lemieux is a legislative fellow in a Congressional office. In 2013, Jason earned his Master of International Affairs at Columbia University. Before that, he served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry.

Update Aug. 22, 2014: This article previously incorrectly stated that forms of contraception that require the least frequent application --- such as Depo-Provera, the Nuva Ring, and intrauterine devices --- are not covered by TRICARE, the military’s health insurance plan. It has been corrected to reflect that military treatment facilities are not required to carry several kinds of contraception, including these listed. 

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Moments before Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia went back into the house, journalist Michael Ware said he was "pacing like a caged tiger ... almost like he was talking to himself."

"I distinctly remember while everybody else had taken cover temporarily, there out in the open on the street — still exposed to the fire from the roof — was David Bellavia," Ware told Task & Purpose on Monday. "David stopped pacing, he looked up and sees that the only person still there on the street is me. And I'm just standing there with my arms folded.

"He looked up from the pacing, stared straight into my eyes, and said 'Fuck it.' And I stared straight back at him and said 'Fuck it,'" Ware said. "And that's when I knew, we were both going back in that house."

Read More Show Less
(Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse)

Former Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn will plead not guilty to a charge of murder for allegedly shooting an unarmed Afghan man whom a tribal leader had identified as a Taliban bomb maker, his attorney said.

Golsteyn will be arraigned on Thursday morning at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Phillip Stackhouse told Task & Purpose.

No date has been set for his trial yet, said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Read More Show Less
Taran Tactical Innovations

John Wick is back, and he's here to stay. It doesn't matter how many bad guys show up to try to collect on that bounty.

With John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, the titular hitman, played by 54-year-old Keanu Reeves, continues on a blood-soaked hyper-stylized odyssey of revenge: first for his slain dog, then his wrecked car, then his destroyed house, then ... well, honestly it's hard to keep track of exactly what Wick is avenging by this point, or the body count he's racked up in the process.

Though we do know that the franchise has raked in plenty of success at the box office: just a week after it's May 17 release, the third installment in director Chad Stahleski's series took in roughly $181 million, making it even more successful than its two wildly popular prequels 2014's John Wick, and 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2.

And, more importantly, Reeves' hitman is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest action movie heroes in recent memory. Few (if any) other action flicks have succeeded in creating a mind-blowing avant garde ballet out of a dozen well-dressed gunmen who get shot, choked, or stabbed with a pencil by a pissed off hitman who just wants to return to retirement.

But for all the over-the-top acrobatics, fight sequences, and gun-porn (see: the sommelier), what makes the series so enthralling, especially for the service members and vets in the audience, is that there are some refreshing moments of realism nestled under all of that gun fu. Wrack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw an action hero do a press check during a shootout, clear a jam, or actually, you know, reload, instead of just hip-firing 300 rounds from an M16 nonstop. It's cool, we'll wait.

As it turns out, there's a good reason for the caliber of gun-play in John Wick. One of the franchise's secret weapons is a professional three-gun shooter named Taran Butler, who told Task & Purpose he can draw and hit three targets in 0.67 seconds from 10 yards. And if you've watched any of the scores of videos he's uploaded to social media over the years, it's pretty clear that this isn't idle boasting.

Read More Show Less

The Navy's electromagnetic railgun is undergoing what officials described as "essentially a shakedown" of critical systems before finally installing a tactical demonstrator aboard a surface warship, the latest sign that the once-beleaguered supergun may actually end up seeing combat.

That pretty much means this is could be the last set of tests before actually slapping this bad boy onto a warship, for once.

Read More Show Less
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The Justice Department has accused Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) of illegally using campaign funds to pay for extramarital affairs with five women.

Hunter, who fought in the Iraq War as a Marine artillery officer, and his wife Margaret were indicated by a federal jury on Aug. 21, 2018 for allegedly using up to $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

In a recent court filing, federal prosecutors accused Hunter of using campaign money to pay for a variety of expenses involved with his affairs, ranging from a $1,008 hotel bill to $7 for a Sam Adams beer.

Read More Show Less