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Legislation would provide military women with free contraception, increase family planning resources, and guarantee access to emergency contraception for sexual assault victims

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) re-introduced legislation, the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2015, which would overhaul current Department of Defense’s (DoD) policy on contraceptive coverage and family planning counseling. Shaheen’s bill would bring health care provided by the military in line with current law for civilian populations by ensuring that all women who receive health care through the United States military have access to all FDA-approved contraception with no health insurance co-pay.

“It’s wrong that women in the military don’t have the same protections civilian women do to get the comprehensive care they need and deserve,” Senator Shaheen said. “No woman should be worried about how they will afford their contraception or find family planning services, and it’s time we come together to fix that for our women in uniform and military families.”

“Comprehensive family planning counseling and education for servicemembers is woefully lacking, and this shortfall undercuts their ability to make informed decisions about their health care needs,” said Sherry M. de Vries, Lt. Col., USMCR (Ret.). “This bill gives our troops the tools they need to make those decisions and will certainly help increase the health of our servicewomen and overall readiness of our armed forces.” 

“I strongly support the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014,” said Glenna Tinney, Captain (Ret.), United States Navy. “It should be a no brainer that women who rely on TRICARE have standard contraceptive coverage - all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and any related education and counseling without cost sharing - that other women now have under the Affordable Care Act.  Contraception, the key to family planning, is basic preventive health care for women that is critical to military readiness.  Can we afford anything less?"

“More than 350,000 women serve on Active Duty in the armed forces or in the Selected Reserve and put their lives and limbs at risk to safeguard our freedom,” said Donna Barbisch, Major General, US Army (Ret.). “They deserve the same access to care as the people they protect. Senator Shaheen’s bill ensures that our servicemembers, and dependent family members who serve and sacrifice equally, have the same healthcare coverage, including contraceptive coverage, provided to all other women enrolled in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan.”

“The unintended pregnancy rate among women in the military is significantly higher than in the general U.S. population,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, Vice President for Research, Ibis Reproductive Health and Assistant Clinical Professor, University of California, San Francisco. “Unwanted and mistimed pregnancy can have negative health consequences for women and their children and disrupt women’s careers—and it also reduces troop readiness given the growing role that women play in the military.  Comprehensive efforts are needed to address the problem of unintended pregnancy, including providing contraceptive counseling to women and education to all members of the military, training of clinicians on evidence-based provision of services, and collection of better data about unintended pregnancy and contraceptive use.”

“The Access to Contraception for Women Service Members and Dependents Act of 2015 will open doors for service women to gain the best health care available,” said Erica Hunt, Service Women’s Action Network Interim CEO. "Having strong, and healthy service members ensures operational and military readiness. Currently servicewomen do not have access to the reproductive health care and education they need and this bill will help meet the health needs of the entire force, including servicewomen, and is critical to the military’s ability to accomplish its mission.”

The Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act builds off the Shaheen Amendment, which was signed into law in 2013 and creates health care equity to women serving in the military. Studies have shown that the rate of unplanned pregnancy in the military is estimated to be up to 50 percent higher than the unplanned pregnancy rate among civilian women, and the re-introduced legislation addresses contraceptive access and counseling for all women who receive their care through the military and takes steps to ensure that servicewomen have the best possible information about their health care and family planning options, wherever they are serving.

Under Shaheen’s legislation, women receiving health care through the United States military will be guaranteed access to all FDA-approved contraception with no health insurance co-pay, regardless of where they receive it. Additionally, the legislation directs the DoD to develop and implement family planning education for all servicemembers at specific points during their service. Finally, the legislation would also ensure access to emergency contraception for servicewomen who are survivors of military sexual assault so that that they receive the critical and time-sensitive medical counseling and care they may need.

Shaheen introduced this legislation in the 114th Congress, and the policy has received strong support from women’s health advocates. Shaheen’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) plans to introduce companion legislation in the House later this morning.