NEW: Shaheen Unveils New Legislation to Provide U.S. Service Members Access to Protected Leave for Abortion & Reproductive Health Care ServicesMay 16, 2023
**Bill follows Shaheen’s March letter to Pentagon leadership in support of DOD health care policy to provide leave for U.S. military personnel for reproductive care.**
(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, unveiled new legislation today – the Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act – that would codify the Department of Defense’s (DOD) February 16, 2023 policy to ensure service members and their families can access non-covered reproductive health care, including abortion services, regardless of the state in which they are stationed.
Shaheen’s legislation follows her letter, signed by 37 Senate Democrats, to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in March reaffirming support for the reproductive health care policies issued by DOD earlier this year and the right of service members and their family members to access reproductive health services without penalty or additional cost due to their service. An estimated 40 percent of active-duty servicewomen, who are stationed based on the needs of the nation and not personal preference, now serve in states that have banned, restricted or worked to curtail access to abortion since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year. Shaheen’s bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Hirono (D-HI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Fetterman (D-PA), Gillibrand (D-NY), King (I-ME), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Cardin (D-MD), Warren (D-MA), Baldwin (D-WI), Duckworth (D-IL), Welch (D-VT), Wyden (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), Carper (D-DE), Murray (D-WA), Booker (D-NJ), Bennet (D-CO), Kelly (D-AZ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Rosen (D-NV), Markey (D-MA) and Durbin (D-IL).
The Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act is endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, VoteVets, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Service Women’s Action Network, Vet Voice Foundation, Power to Decide, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the National Partnership for Women and Families.
“The onslaught of anti-women laws enacted across our country since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have imperiled women’s access to comprehensive health care services, including abortion. Among those most vulnerable to these dangerous laws are servicewomen and military families, who have no choice over where they are stationed and what state laws may govern women’s bodies. That’s why it is paramount that Congress act to enshrine current Department of Defense policy to protect servicewomen and military families and provide them necessary leave for reproductive health care services,” said Senator Shaheen. “It’s shameful that Republicans have pushed Congress to this point – that we need to safeguard paid leave so military personnel and their loved ones can seek out the health care they need. The attacks on women waged by Republicans are putting women’s lives at risk, and in this case, also compromising military readiness. Servicewomen should not be put in this position in the first place. I’ll do everything I can to mitigate the impact they may feel from these extreme policies and ensure their health and safety comes first.”
“Everyone should have the freedom to control their own bodies, lives, and futures. The Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act helps make that a reality for service members and their loved ones, by making permanent a Department of Defense policy that expands access to abortion and fertility care. This is especially important as anti-abortion extremists decimate abortion access across this country, forcing those seeking abortion care to face increasingly insurmountable barriers,” said Jackii Wang, Senior Legislative Analyst for Reproductive Rights & Health at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “We thank Senator Shaheen for introducing this important legislation.”
“Anyone who needs an abortion should be able to take paid time off from work and have the resources to travel to receive the care they need,” said Jocelyn Frye, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “This is particularly true for service members and their families, many of whom faithfully serve our country in states with extreme abortion bans with devastating effects on the availability of comprehensive reproductive health care. We are grateful to Senator Shaheen for working to ensure that service members who give so much on behalf of our country can secure meaningful access to abortion care.”
“Since the Supreme Court took away a woman’s guaranteed right to choose, the patchwork of laws across the country have led to nothing but confusion and frustration for those who need abortion services the most. The military has done what it can to help alleviate those issues, and help make it easier for women service members access reproductive care when they need it. This is a national security issue, plain and simple. It affects retention of our best service members. It affects readiness and cohesion. It affects recruiting. We applaud Senator Shaheen for drafting legislation that protects those who put on the uniform to protect us,” said Janessa Goldbeck, CEO, Vet Voice Foundation.
“At a time when restrictions on reproductive health care advance in numerous states, Senator Shaheen’s proposal enshrining protections for women service members in the law is more important than ever. We simply cannot allow fringe anti-choice politicians to impose their radical social agenda on our military, which would hurt our readiness, stymie our recruiting, and make us less safe. Any Senator who cares about keeping our military and nation strong should support this bill,” said Mary Kaszynski, Director of Government Relations, VoteVets.
“Our service members and their families routinely sacrifice for this country. It is past time that we codify their access to travel for comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion services. This bill would ensure that our service members and their families have access to protective leave and privacy to use the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare including fertility care. Service members and their families do not control where they are stationed, and their access to care shouldn’t be limited by the whims of lawmakers in the state where they serve. Everyone who put their lives on the line for this nation deserve unfettered access to reproductive healthcare. The absolute least that we can do as a country is to support their family-building travel needs. I applaud Senator Shaheen for her leadership and dedication to our service members,” said Dr. Michael Thomas, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
Specifically, Shaheen’s bill would:
- Allow service members to access non-covered reproductive health care through an administrative absence, to prevent loss of accrued leave and with full pay;
- Allow a service member to accompany a spouse or dependent who receives non-covered reproductive health care through an administrative absence;
- Provide a service member, or their dependent, access to travel and transportation allowances to receive non-covered reproductive health care (this does not include payment for the reproductive care services); and
- Ensure the protection of the privacy of the service member requesting administrative absence in order to access or accompany a spouse or dependent accessing non-covered reproductive health care.
Shaheen’s new bill follows her renewed bipartisan push last week on her legislation to bring health care provided by the military in line with current law for civilian populations by ensuring that those who receive health care through the military have access to all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with no health insurance co-pay. The legislation would also guarantee access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault upon their request and require the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive family planning education program. Though Shaheen has historically led the legislation in previous years, this renewed bipartisan effort is more important than ever amid the unprecedented reversal of Roe v. Wade and numerous anti-reproductive health laws that have been enacted across the nation.
Senator Shaheen is an unrelenting advocate for women’s reproductive rights. A senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in 2013, Shaheen included an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which expanded access to abortion care for servicewomen to bring the Department of Defense to parity with other federal agencies. Last year, Shaheen offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 NDAA that would have enshrined the right for service members to access protected leave for abortion care and services. Since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, 19 states have enacted total or partial abortion bans, limiting access to essential reproductive care for thousands of active-duty service women stationed in the continental United States.
Bill text of the legislation is available here.
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