Guest Commentary: Women in the military deserve better access to health care


Sylvia Ghazarian is the executive director of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a nonprofit abortion fund that provides urgently needed financial assistance on a national level to those seeking abortion or emergency contraception.

“Women in the military shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they have access to health care depending on where they get stationed or deployed, nor should any service member’s family.” — Kim, former U.S. Army officer and activist for women veterans.

The United States military is one of the largest employers in the world, with over 1.3 million active-duty personnel and millions more veterans and their families. It is important that military personnel, who bravely have served the country, have access to comprehensive health care, including abortion care, regardless of where they are stationed or deployed. This is especially crucial given the barriers to accessing abortion care that military personnel often face due to restrictive policies on abortion funding.

TRICARE, the military health insurance program, currently does not cover all abortions, and in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the health or life of the pregnant person, a physician must certify that an abortion is necessary. This policy undermines the reproductive rights and privacy of military personnel and puts their health and well-being at risk.

Furthermore, military personnel and their families often face unique challenges when it comes to accessing health care services, including abortion care, due to deployments, relocations and other military obligations that can make it difficult to access health care services in a timely manner.

One Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project patient, a military member, stated that she cannot afford the out-of-pocket cost of over $2,000 for an abortion, and her insurance does not cover the procedure. She cannot afford a child either and only has $300 to contribute toward the procedure. This situation highlights the importance of providing financial assistance to cover the costs of abortion care — a service that the project, the largest national independent abortion fund, is increasingly called to provide for military members from coast to coast.

Abortion is not a political issue; it is a human issue. The right to access safe and legal abortion is essential for military members and their families to have control over their own bodies and their own futures. It is time to stop attacking a person’s reproductive rights and start supporting them.

With the overturning of Roe by the Supreme Court last year, the barriers to accessing abortion care are only exacerbated for military personnel who are stationed in states with restrictive abortion laws. Kim, a former U.S. Army officer who served for four years, expressed concerns that “military health care providers have never been able to provide abortion care, except for the life of the mother, rape or incest. This means service members have to take leave, seek a provider off-base and pay out-of-pocket. Now, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, if they are stationed in a state that has restricted abortion access, they must take an even longer leave, scramble to find a provider and get approval to have travel paid for to a region where abortion is legal in order to receive care. Not to mention potentially having to disclose to their chain of command that they need an abortion in order to get their leave request granted.”

It is essential that we prioritize health care, including the right to access safe and legal abortion, for military personnel who have sacrificed so much for the country.

It is unacceptable that women who have bravely served our country cannot access the health care they need. We cannot stand idly by while the women who have put their lives on the line for our freedom are denied the freedom to make choices about their own bodies.

On this Memorial Day, as we honor and remember the sacrifices made by military personnel who have served our country, let us also reflect on the ways in which we can support and care for our service members and their families. It is time to end the stigma and shame around abortion and start supporting individuals in making their own decisions about their bodies and their futures.

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