Even before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the military struggled to get abortions. Navigating different state laws, trying to get licensed, and figuring out travel plans wasn’t easy.
“Having been so difficult, the hurdles I had to overcome and jump over, readjusted where I thought I would fit in the military,” said Air Force Major Sharon Arana.
In 2009, Arana became pregnant during officer training in Alabama. She took a test in the bathroom of a gas station instead of going to the base’s clinic, fearing that her command would discover the pregnancy.
Arana and her boyfriend finally decided to have a medical abortion, but they couldn’t get an appointment in Alabama because there were so few clinics. When they drove to Georgia, they faced another problem. The couple shelled out several hundred dollars for a hotel, medical imaging and tests, only to learn that Georgia state law required a cooling off period.
“They said, ‘Well, there’s a three-day waiting period,’” Arana said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t have three days, I have to get back to training.’ So we got back together the next day and I graduated that week.
Later, Arana has an abortion in New York while on scheduled leave to visit her family. But if that break hadn’t already occurred, she said she doesn’t know what she would have done.
Those experiences are important to her now that abortion is no longer protected under federal law. Arana has been telling her story and has even testified before Congress, worried that experiences like hers will become more common.
“This is directly affecting our airmen right now and our families,” she said. “None of us asked for any of this. We cannot choose where we live. We can’t choose where we are stationed… We must be protected from a lot of that.
Arana also helped shape a new Department of Defense policy that allows military personnel to take up to three weeks of administrative leave for abortion or fertility treatment and reimburses them for travel expenses. This gives the military more time – 20 weeks – before notifying commanders of the pregnancy. It also restricts health professionals from informing commanders.
“The Department has listened to service members and their families about the complexity and uncertainty they now face in accessing reproductive health care,” said Department of Defense Spokesperson Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman.
“Efforts undertaken by the Department of Reproductive Health Care not only ensure that service members and their families have the time and flexibility to make personal and private health care decisions, but also ensure that service members can access care, regardless of where they are. . These policies help address the fact that service members may be forced to travel greater distances, miss more work and pay more out-of-pocket expenses to access reproductive health care.”
According to some supporters, the military has taken an important step towards meeting the health needs of the troops.
“The military has not really been a leader on reproductive access issues in the past, and to see them take the needs of service members seriously is a refreshing change, especially in the context of gender,” said Claire McKinney of the College of William and Mary. professor who studies gender, politics and reproduction.
To take leave, servicemen need only identify their request to the commander as an “uncovered reproductive health need.” give details of the clinic where you sought abortion or fertility treatment.
Lorry Fenner, director of government relations for the Service Women’s Action Network, said the policy does a good job of balancing troop privacy with mission requirements — but that implementing it won’t be easy.
“There will be problems,” Fenner said. “There are commanders who won’t get the word out or who will disagree and do everything they can to stop this. Because they believe their mission is their number one priority. But the secretary reminds them that the health and care of their members is what makes that mission accomplished.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans are trying to block the policy.
With the Hyde Amendment and other provisions, Congress already prohibits the federal government from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama argues that paying for the trip to an abortion provider violates the spirit of Hyde.
“Secretary Austin’s new abortion policy is immoral and possibly illegal. If he wants to change the law, he needs to go through Congress, ”he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Republican members of Congress say they plan to try to make the policy explicitly illegal. They proposed legislation that would prohibit the Department of Defense from funding military travel to obtain abortions.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration reporting on military life and American veterans.
Copyright 2023 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.