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Shaheen Amendment would end ban on access to affordable reproductive healthcare for women in the military

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) held a press conference today alongside two high-ranking military officials calling on House and Senate conferees to follow the Senate’s lead in supporting her provision that would allow the Department of Defense to cover the cost of abortions for servicewomen who are victims of rape or incest. 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 reproductive rights as the civilians they protect. The provision was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed by a unanimous vote yesterday in the Senate.  The language is now pending final negotiation between House and Senate conferees.

Shaheen was joined at the press conference by Retired Army Major General Gale Pollock and Retired Army Major General Dennis Laich, who echoed the call to protect the Shaheen Amendment as a fundamental right for women in the military.

"Women in the military give so much to protect our country, and it is only right that we make sure that access to health care is not another sacrifice our servicewomen are forced to make,” Shaheen said. “This is an issue of basic equality. Women serving in our armed forces should be able to receive coverage for abortions in the case of rape.  I have been encouraged by the bipartisan support this provision has received in the Senate thus far, and I urge the House and Senate conferees to support this critical provision as we move forward with the NDAA.”

Under current law, Department of Defense is allowed to only provide coverage for an abortion of 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 amendment passed in the Senate Armed Services Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-10, with the support of both Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ).

“This isn't about politics or ideology; it's about basic fairness and equity,” said Army Major General Gale Pollock. “Women who serve our nation should not be treated as political pawns. I am here today to urge the defense bill conferees, especially the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees – all of whom care about the wellbeing of our military women, wives and daughters -- to make sure the Shaheen Amendment is included in the final defense bill and becomes law this year.  We shouldn’t delay any longer; we must take care of our troops.”

“I served for more than 35 years in the United States Army.  From the time I joined the Army in 1971, I was told that my principal job as an officer was to take care of my troops.  I'm here today because the current law flies in the face of that obligation,” said Army Major General Dennis Laich. “Today, our government denies servicewomen the same coverage for abortion in cases of rape and incest that is provided to all other women enrolled in federal healthcare. That is wrong. Our military women deserve the same respect and compassion that we extend to other women in such traumatic circumstances.”

Pollock and Laich are members of the Stand with Servicewomen coalition, which includes more than 130 retired military officials who have spoken out in favor of the Shaheen Amendment.

Currently there are more than 214,000 women serving in active duty in the military. Those who have been sexually assaulted, especially those posted overseas, can be forced to seek unsafe and unacceptable alternatives to a safe abortion due to the funding ban in current law.