February 15, 2010
The Pentagon’s decision to begin making so-called morning-after emergency contraception available at military bases around the world marked welcome, if overdue, progress in meeting the health needs of women serving the United States in the military.
The decision followed a recommendation by the Pentagon’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee. The medical advisory panel voted in November to add emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, to the list of drugs required to be stocked at every military facility.
A similar recommendation by the panel in 2002 was blocked by the Bush administration, which chose to ill-treat servicewomen — including victims of sexual assault — to placate antiabortion extremists who view emergency contraception as a form of abortion.
In 2006, after a protracted fight, the Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill to adults. That made the military’s policy of denying its soldiers access even harder to justify. The turnaround on emergency contraception is all the more significant given the serious, continuing problem of sexual assaults among service members.
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.