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Tammy Duckworth Headshot

The Time is Now to End Discrimination Against Our Servicemembers

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Voters in my district and across the country sent a strong message on Election Day: it is time to stop the War on Women. Voters said "no" to attempts by anti-choice politicians to interfere with a woman's right to make her own personal, private decisions about her reproductive health. They said "yes" to a health-care system that will keep families healthy and ensure that reproductive-health services are affordable and accessible. While the fight is far from over, in the coming weeks, members of Congress will have an opportunity to end a discriminatory policy that impacts women who are serving our nation.

Under current law, if a servicewoman becomes pregnant as a result of sexual assault and chooses abortion care, her military health insurance will not cover it. Requiring military women to pay out of pocket in these circumstances is a policy that is out of line with most other federal health insurance plans, such as Medicaid, and it is discrimination, plain and simple.

The women putting their lives at risk for our country deserve better than to be treated as second-class citizens. According to the Department of Defense, women now make up approximately 14 percent of U.S. military personnel. And, according to the Pentagon, more than 3,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported last year -- and that doesn't count the estimated 80 to 90 percent of sexual assaults that go unreported.

The insurance-coverage ban places an undue financial burden on female service members and military dependents. And because sexual assault rates in the military are highest among women in the junior enlisted ranks-meaning women who earn the lowest pay-the policy disproportionately affects the servicewomen who likely cannot afford out-of-pocket care. Worst of all, this policy puts women's health in danger. It may make some women reluctant to seek medical services or force them to delay care for several weeks. Although legal abortion remains a very safe medical procedure, the risk to the woman's health increases each week it is delayed.

As a combat Veteran and newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I ask Congress to repeal this discriminatory ban. I am not alone in this request. More than 200 flag and general officers and former and retired commissioned and non-commissioned officers have called the law "unjust and unfair." The Pentagon opposes this ban. And the American public, who rejected anti-choice politicians at the polls on Election Day, also opposes this injustice: in an August 2012 poll, 70 percent said they do not support the ban on insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest.

The time to fix this policy is now. And when Congress considers the FY'13 National Defense Authorization Act in the coming days, it has the power to do so. In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted the Shaheen amendment which would lift the ban. The full Senate adopted the provision when it passed its version of the bill on December 4. It now goes to conference and it's up to lawmakers in the House and Senate to recognize that there is no place for discrimination against sexual-assault survivors in the U.S. military.

As Chief Master Sergeant Cindy McNally, USAF (Ret.), a survivor of sexual assault early in her military career, said, "Our servicewomen commit their lives to defending our freedoms and, in return, Congress should respect their service and sacrifice and provide them with the level of health care coverage they deserve." We owe our servicewomen nothing less.