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A Special "Thank You" to a Pro-Choice Champion for Servicewomen

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468px-Jeanne_Shaheen,.jpgThis year's elections proved that Americans won't tolerate politicians who turn their back on rape survivors. No matter where you stand on the issue of legal abortion, it's just wrong to deny a woman who endured sexual violence access to reproductive-health care.

Under current law, military women are banned from using their military health-insurance plans to cover abortion care if they become pregnant as a result of sexual assault.

Today, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward finally paying military women the respect they deserve by adopting the language known as the Shaheen amendment in the FY '13 Department of Defense (DoD) authorization bill to lift this discriminatory policy.

Last week, President Obama marked his administration's support for lifting this ban.

Our own Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, applauded the Senate,

"Today, women in the military have come one step closer to winning protections they deserve for reproductive freedom and privacy. Denying our heroes access to complete reproductive-health care coverage not only discriminates against them but also endangers their health. Congress has an opportunity to protect and support those who selflessly serve our country. Now it's up to John Boehner to step up to this task."

But nobody has worked harder for military women than the author and namesake of the language, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D- N.H.).

Sen. Shaheen has been leading the charge to correct the current policy, which places an undue burden on the servicewomen who dedicate their lives to serving our country.

We thank Sen. Shaheen for her tireless work to end this unjust policy, and we're thrilled that the Senate stood with military women.

Now, the U.S. House of Representatives has the opportunity to end this cruel policy when they work with the Senate to approve the final version of the DoD authorization bill.

We need your help - send a strong message to Speaker John Boehner and anti-choice members of the House: We owe it to our military women to provide them with the health care they need in the tragic circumstance of sexual assault.

Standing Up for Women in the Military

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Our servicewomen put their lives on the line for our rights, but they don't have same right to choose that we have at home.

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Current law permits the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide abortion care at military facilities only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.

In the tragic cases of rape or incest, the servicewoman must bear the cost of the medical care herself, which means the restrictions on military women go even further than on civilian women.

Fortunately, pro-choice lawmakers are working to change this unfair policy.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a measure that would repeal the law that blocks women from using their military insurance plan to cover abortion care if they survive a sexual assault.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised Sen. Shaheen and other pro-choice leaders for standing up for our servicewomen:

Women in the military deserve the same reproductive -health care as women here at home. Anti-choice lawmakers are putting politics ahead of servicewomen's health and safety. These women are fighting for our freedom while being denied their own.

It's outrageous for women in the military who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault to be denied the right to the full range of reproductive-health care options.

Thank you, Sen. Shaheen!

Call on your senators to stand with our servicewomen by supporting the Shaheen amendment.

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As many of you are likely aware by now, given the media coverage in the Associated Press and the Washington Post, an independent committee at the Department of Defense (DOD) recently added emergency contraception (EC) to the list of medications made available to servicemembers overseas. Approximately 350,000 women serve in the military or depend on military facilities for their health care abroad, so this decision couldn't have come any sooner.

That's good news, right? The vast majority of Americans would agree, but some people took the opportunity to further expose their extreme views. Who, you ask? Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. These two anti-choice organizations are very critical of this action, and have denounced it with all the hysteria and hypocrisy we've come to expect. Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright said:

... The military should be focusing on "discipline and proper behavior - because lives depend on it - not promoting risky behavior," as reported by LifeSiteNews.com.

Jeanne Monahan, director of Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity commented:

"In the last year we have witnessed the Obama Administration move from the status quo of abortion as legal and available in health care plans to aggressively promoting U.S. government funded abortions."

And

"It can prevent the embryo from implanting and therefore destroy a human life..."

That's just plain absurd, but still - Monahan went on to claim, "We can all agree that there is a huge difference between preventing and destroying human life. And women in uniform deserve to know the truth about their medications."

Well, I agree with Monahan's latter statement - Women do deserve to know the truth about their medications... and the truth is that EC is simply a concentrated dose of ordinary birth-control pills that can significantly reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant if taken soon after sex. EC does not cause abortion (PDF); rather it is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales for adults in August 2006.

We know one vet that will agree with the independent Pentagon panel's decision, and that's Kayla Williams. Kayla is a friend of NARAL Pro-Choice America and is a former sergeant and Arabic linguist in a Military Intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). During her year in Iraq, Kayla spent her time at the forefront of U.S. interactions with Iraqis, while simultaneously navigating the challenges that come with being part of the 15 percent of the Army that is female.

In a blog post for VetVoice - the online home of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans - Kayla blogged about sex in the military and her support for the Compassionate Care for Servicewomen Act:

Women in the military may not like to talk about it, since many of us are still fighting to prove that we belong in the military and do our jobs well. Quite frankly, I don't want to talk about sex in a war zone - I want to talk about how women are proving ourselves not only competent but indispensable in counterinsurgency.

But the reality is that humans do have sex. The Army even lets married soldiers live together in Iraq. Condoms are sold at the PX. And - tragically - nonconsensual sex happens too; the DoD reports that reports of sexual assaults are on the rise, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Go Kayla! - and thank you for your service.

One final note: In an editorial, The New York Times agreed with Kayla and applauded the Pentagon panel's decision and even went a step further, calling for an end to the anti-choice policy that prohibits servicewomen's access to abortion, even when they use their own money:

Next, Pentagon officials and members of Congress need to address the callous treatment of servicewomen with regard to abortion. Under current rules, military doctors may perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when the women's lives are endangered. And even in cases of rape and incest, the women must pay. It is outrageous that politics is allowed to interfere with the health care decisions of women who wear the nation's uniform.

Be sure to read the entire column and share it with your friends and family.

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