Washington, D.C. — A new report out today from the Center for American Progress examines the obstacles women in the military face to accessing reproductive and sexual health care. The report’s findings make the case for why newly introduced legislation that would improve access to contraception for women who rely on the military for the health care is so crucial.
Women’s presence and roles in the military have greatly increased over the past few decades. Women currently make up 16 percent of the armed forces, and that percentage is only expected to grow. Furthermore, 97 percent of women serving in the armed forces today are of reproductive age. But how the military falls far short of its obligations to provide servicewomen with adequate reproductive and sexual health care has received little attention.
The report, titled “Out of Range” looks at how despite the growing presence and significance of women’s roles in the military, the military’s health system has failed to adequately adapt to its patient’s changing demographics. The report finds that there are still significant inconsistencies in the military health insurance program Tricare’s coverage between men and women as well as how Tricare is falling short of providing servicewomen equal access to reproductive and sexual health care as civilians. Key examples of these inconsistencies include:
- While Tricare offers comprehensive coverage for erectile dysfunction, it does not provide coverage for the evaluation and management of female sexual dysfunction.
- While private insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act cover contraception, servicewomen not on active duty must provide co-payments for these prescriptions even as evidence suggests that servicewomen have much higher rates of unintended pregnancy than women in the civilian sector.
- Tricare restricts the coverage of abortion. Abortions cannot be performed in military facilities except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, even if a woman is willing and able to pay for her abortion out of pocket.
In addition to Tricare’s inadequacies, even when servicewomen are ultimately able to obtain reproductive health care, too often it is not easily available:
- Military treatment centers frequently lack the capacity to provide comprehensive health services for women, forcing many women to leave the base—only after obtaining permission from their commanding officers—to find the care they need.
- One-third of servicewomen lack proper access to birth control during their deployment for a variety of reasons, including short notice of their deployment.
- Access to emergency contraception, which is particularly important in the military given the astounding rates of sexual assault, has been subject to political gamesmanship.
Based on the analysis, the authors make a series of policy recommendations to improve access to reproductive and sexual health care in the military. Specifically, they argue that Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs should:
- Ensure that women receive appropriate and timely gynecological screenings and follow-up care before deployment.
- Provide both female and male soldiers with complete information and counseling about a full range of contraceptive options, including the most effective methods during deployment, and make predeployment contraceptive counseling routine.
- Collect consistent and comprehensive data on contraceptive access as well as on the incidence and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and use among all of the service branches.
- Ensure all forms of emergency contraception are stocked in all medical treatment facilities.
- Pass Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) newly introduced bill that would ensure that cost sharing is not required for any method of contraception.
- Take dispositional authority for sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and take needed steps to increase both individual and institutional accountability for sexual assault in the military.
- Provide fair and reasonable accommodations for servicewomen who choose to carry their pregnancies to term.
- Pass the Ruth Moore Act to ensure that veterans who have been sexually assaulted in the military have coverage for needed medical care.
- Lift all coverage and facilities bans on military abortion care, vacate President Richard Nixon’s Good Neighbor Policy, and ensure that sufficient numbers of military medical personnel are trained and willing to provide abortion care.
“The fact that women in the armed forces are fighting to defend rights that they themselves do not completely possess is not only an injustice to individual servicewomen, but it also negatively impacts the military as a whole,” said Donna Barry, co-author of the report and Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at CAP. “Policies that protect all U.S. soldiers’ access to the health care they need, that honor the women who serve our country, and that ensure our military’s readiness is not jeopardized are long overdue.”
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