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(Washington, D.C.) – General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 65th United States Secretary of State, joined a letter today with dozens of military leaders urging Congressional support for an amendment introduced by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that would allow the Department of Defense to cover the cost of abortions for servicewomen who are survivors of rape and incest. The letter was sent to the Chairman and Ranking Member in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

The Shaheen Amendment was included in the version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed unanimously by the Senate on December 4th and is now pending final negotiation between House and Senate conferees. 

The Shaheen Amendment would put Department of Defense rules in line with other federal policies and would help ensure that women in uniform receive the same insurance coverage as the civilians they protect. Under current law, the Department of Defense is allowed to only provide coverage for an abortion if the servicewoman’s life is in danger. Unlike most other federal health programs, there is no exemption for abortion coverage in the case of rape or incest. 

The text of letter is below: 

December 9, 2012

The Honorable Carl Levin                                                              The Honorable John McCain

Chairman                                                                                             Ranking Member

Senate Armed Services Committee                                         Senate Armed Services Committee

269 Russell Senate Office Building                                            241 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510                                                                   Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Buck McKeon                                                     The Honorable Adam Smith

Chairman                                                                                             Ranking Member

House Armed Services Committee                                          House Armed Services Committee

2184 Rayburn House Office Building                                        2402 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515                                                                   Washington, DC 20515

CC:         The Honorable Harry Reid, U.S. Senate Majority Leader

                The Honorable Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Minority Leader

                The Honorable John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

                The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader

Dear Sirs:

We, the undersigned, are flag and general officers, and former and retired commissioned and non-commissioned officers. We write to express our strong support for the Shaheen Amendment to the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (Section 711 of H.R. 4310 as passed by the Senate) that provides equal health care for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest by extending the same abortion coverage provided to all other women enrolled in federal health care. We respectfully ask that this provision be included in the final defense authorization bill that will be sent to each chamber for final passage.

It has been our privilege to lead and serve alongside the brave men and women of our armed forces and we believe that they deserve the best medical care that our country can provide. We were therefore greatly disappointed to learn that, by federal statute, the Department of Defense is barred from providing insurance coverage for abortion except where a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike other current federal restrictions on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for cases of rape and incest. The current policy is unfair and must be changed.

Restoring abortion coverage to our servicewomen and military family members who are survivors of rape and incest would bring the Department of Defense in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid or the Federal Employee Health Benefit program. At the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as civilian women who rely on the federal government for their health care. Our servicewomen commit their lives to defending our freedoms; Congress should respect their service and sacrifice and provide them with the same level of health care coverage it provides civilians.

Additionally, claims that military physicians would be forced to provide abortions even if they have a religious or moral objection are absolutely false and, in this circumstance, are misdirected. The Shaheen Amendment is about insurance coverage. Moreover, military policy has long provided conscience protections for those military health care professionals who object to abortion and these protections remain in effect today.

We stand ready to work with you, and other members of Congress, to ensure that the Shaheen Amendment becomes law this year. Our servicewomen deserve nothing less.

Thank you for your dedication and leadership on behalf of the men and women of our armed forces.


Colin L. Powell, General, USA (Ret.), VA

Ronald R. Blanck, DO, Lieutenant General, MC, USA (Ret.), DE

Robert G. Gard, Jr., Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.), VA

Charles B. Green, MD, MPH, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret.), TN 

Arlen D. Jameson, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret.), TX

Claudia J. Kennedy, Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.), SC

Harold M. Koenig, MD, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.), CA

Carol A. Mutter, Lieutenant General, USMC (Ret.), IN

James M. Thompson, Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.), ID

Nancy R. Adams, Major General, USA (Ret.), FL

Donna F. Barbisch, DHA, MPH, Major General, USA (Ret.), Washington, DC

Stephen M. Goldfein, Major General, USAF (Ret.), VA

Marcelite J. Harris, Major General, USAF (Ret.), GA

Dennis J. Laich, Major General, USAR (Ret.), OH

Gale S. Pollock, CRNA, FACHE, FAAN, Major General, USA (Ret.), VA

Alan M. Steinman, MD, Rear Admiral, USPHS/USCG (Ret.), WA

Deborah C. Wheeling, MS, MSN, RN, Major General, ARNG (Ret.), NY

Clara Adams-Ender, RN, MS, FAAN, Brigadier General, USA (Ret.), VA

Julia J. Cleckley, Brigadier General, ARNG (Ret.), VA

Evelyn “Pat” Foote, Brigadier General, USA (Ret.), MD

John Johns, Brigadier General, USA (Ret.), VA

Rabbi Harold L. Robinson, Rear Admiral, CHC, USN (Ret.), MA

Wilma L. Vaught, Brigadier General, USAF (Ret.), VA

Ralph J. Cook, Colonel, USA (Ret.), VA

Elizabeth W. Fleming, Colonel, JA USAR (Ret.), AK

William L. Hauser, Colonel, USA (Ret.), FL

Lawrence Korb, Captain, USNR (Ret.), VA

Lory Manning, Captain, USN (Ret.), VA

Dwayne Oslund, Captain, USN (Ret.), CA

Joellen Oslund, Captain, USNR (Ret.), CA

Michael E. Pheneger, Colonel, USA (Ret.), FL

Katherine Scheirman, MD, Colonel, USAF (Ret.), OK

Glenna L. Tinney, Captain, MSC, USN (Ret.), VA

Sherry de Vries, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.), VA

Marilla Cushman, Lieutenant Colonel, USA (Ret.), VA

Grant R. Doty, Lieutenant Colonel, USA (Ret.), MO

Darlene Iskra, Commander, USN (Ret.), WA

Coy A. Flowers, MD, FACOG, Lieutenant Commander (former), MC, USNR, WV

Anuradha K. Bhagwati, Captain (former), USMC, NY

Gregory S. Jacob, Captain (former), USMC, NY

John L. Estrada, 15th SMMC, USMC (Ret.), FL

Joel Jenkins, CSM, USA (Ret.), HI

Cindy McNally, Chief Master Sergeant, USAF (Ret.), VA 

Robert McNally, Chief Master Sergeant, USAF (Ret.), VA