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Shaheen Amendment would bring Department of Defense rules on abortion in line with policies governing the rest of the federal government

(Washington, D.C.) – Ensuring that women in the military receive the same rights to reproductive health services as the civilians they protect is an issue of fundamental equality, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said today in a speech on the Senate floor. Shaheen sponsored an amendment, which was included on a strong bipartisan vote during the Senate Armed Services Committee consideration of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, that would provide women in the military who are victims of rape or incest the right to access affordable abortion care. The Shaheen Amendment would align military rules on abortion care with the policy used for civilian federal employees.

The Shaheen 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), and is part of the National Defense Authorization Act currently under consideration on the Senate floor.

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, we talk often in this chamber about the service of our men and women in uniform.  We talk about their courage in the face of our enemies.  We talk about their selflessness as they continually deploy around the world; sometimes uprooting their families, sometimes leaving them behind.  We talk about our responsibilities to them, from the tools they’ll need to accomplish their missions to the support they’ve earned when they return home.

I am so pleased about the growing recognition of the unprecedented contribution our female service members are making to our national defense, particularly over the last ten years.  There are over 214,000 women serving in our armed forces, they make up over 14 percent of our total force.  Women are flying our F-15 Strike Eagles, Apaches and Blackhawks.  Women are training to be Marine Corps Infantry Officers and working alongside our special operations units in Afghanistan.  Women are becoming an integral part of nearly all of our military operations.

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense opened 14,000 new positions to women.  When asked about the move, Secretary Panetta said: “Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield.

The women serving in the United States military continue to overcome barriers and strive for new opportunities to serve their country.  They have carried on the finest traditions of our military, and should make us all very proud.

Yet, despite their service, women in the military continue to face discrimination when it comes to reproductive health care.  Women receiving health care through Medicaid, Medicare, the Federal Employees’ Health Benefits Program and the Indian Health Service all have access to the care they need if they face pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.  Mr. President, even women incarcerated in federal prison are protected in the case of rape.

To be clear, a general ban remains on abortion coverage for the millions of women who receive health care through the federal government.  However, in nearly all cases, these bans allow for coverage if the life of the mother is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  It is simply unfair that military women continue to be denied such reproductive health care.

I strongly believe that every woman should have the reproductive health care coverage she needs wherever she is and whenever she needs it.  However, if federal bans do exist, they should at least be consistent.

I was encouraged that, during this year’s mark-up, a strong bipartisan majority of my colleagues on the Armed Services committee, including both the Chair and the Ranking Member, supported bringing this parity to our service women.

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to work with my colleagues here in the Senate, many of whom are long time champions on this issue, to ensure that this provision is passed by the Senate, included during conference with the House, and signed by the President.

In the end, Mr. President, this is an issue of basic equality.  Women serving in our armed forces should be able to access the same reproductive health services as the civilians they protect.  Access to basic health care should no longer be one of the sacrifices that women in the United States military are forced to make.  

Women in the military deserve the best, most comprehensive, health care we can provide.  I am encouraged by the bipartisan support this provision has received thus far, and I am hopeful that we will see it become law this year.  It is the least we can do for our female service members.  Thank you.