Women Soldiers Forced to Resort to Back-Alley Abortions

Why Are Their Reproductive Rights Denied? – Published on AlterNet, by Kathryn Joyce, Religion Dispatches. December 21, 2009.

Thanks to anti-abortion forces in Congress and other culture warriors, female soldiers are not protected by the Constitution they defend. “You hear these legends of coat-hanger abortions,” a 26-year-old former Marine sergeant told me recently, “but there are no coat hangers in Iraq. I looked.” Amy (who prefers not to use her real name) was stationed in Fallujah as a military journalist two years ago when she discovered she was pregnant. As a female Marine, a distinct minority in the branch, Amy was fearful of going to her chain of command to explain her situation.

For military women, who lack all rights to medical privacy, facing an unplanned pregnancy is a daunting obstacle. Thanks to anti-abortion forces in Congress, military hospitals are banned from providing abortion services, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest (and for the latter two, only if the patient pays for the service herself). Amy says her options were “like being given a choice between swimming in a pond full of crocodiles or piranhas.”

“I have long been aware of the stigma surrounding this circumstance and knew my career would likely be over, though I have received exceptional performance reviews in the past,” …

… Reproductive Rights Lost as Church and State Become Entwined

The ban on abortions at military hospitals hasn’t been a prominent aspect of abortion rights advocacy in recent years, as reproductive rights activists have scrambled to avoid losing further ground to anti-abortion measures like the House health care bill’s Stupak amendment or the corresponding Nelson amendment defeated last week in the Senate. But there are reasons why it should be.

The new Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, came to the Pentagon after serving as the representative of New York’s 23rd District, where last month conservative activists forced the Republican running for McHugh’s old seat, Dede Scozzafava, out of the race for being insufficiently conservative. McHugh’s own culture war credentials are solid, earning him kudos from religious right and anti-abortion groups, and skepticism from church-state separation groups.

Upon McHugh’s nomination last June, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a civil rights watchdog group that monitors proselytization and religious discrimination in the US military, lamented that McHugh was too little change from Bush appointees who intermingled the military’s mission with that of evangelizing ministries. MRFF senior researcher Chris Rodda noted that McHugh had backed such constitutionally-ambiguous legislation as proposals to privilege the right to pray on public property or to prevent legal challenges to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Americans United executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn urged an inquiry into his record on church-state separation while the Secular Coalition for America argued that, “McHugh’s past record in the House of Representatives indicates an unwillingness to improve our military’s policies that relate to religious proselytizing and discriminatory practices.” But these concerns were not even addressed in the confirmation process … (full long text).

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