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Pentagon Abortion Politics

August 28, 2004

Join the military, see the world and get a nose job courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Heck, get breast implants if you'd like, or laser eye surgery, even liposuction. Taxpayers will pick up the tab because, according to the Pentagon officials quoted in recent news accounts, military surgeons need operating room practice. Battlefield injuries, sadly, can require some pretty extreme makeovers.

But if a servicewoman gets pregnant and doesn't want to be, the Army and the other military branches aren't nearly so accommodating. In fact, a poor woman on welfare has more options than one who volunteers to serve her country. The military won't pay for an abortion unless a base doctor decides that the pregnancy endangers a woman's life, a circumstance doctors define on a case-by-case basis. As a result, military abortions are so rare that there seem to be no data on how many have been performed.

Yet federal tax dollars cover abortions for poor civilian women under Medicaid if they get pregnant because of rape or incest, as well as if their lives are on the line. Military doctors will perform an abortion for rape or incest victims only if the soldier pays. That rule applied to the victims of the 822 sexual assaults reported to Army officials in 2003. Many of those women were serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, where they can't easily get an abortion in a local hospital either, regardless of their ability to pay.

An amendment to the Senate version of the Defense Department's authorization bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would give women in uniform the same rights abroad that Medicaid patients have at home, providing abortions in cases of rape and incest. That parity seems little enough to do for female troops, yet the House defense funding bill contains no similar language. Both measures are now in conference.

The women assaulted last year by fellow soldiers may have passed nail-biting weeks before learning if those attacks left them pregnant. We'd bet they would have been comforted to know the Army would help them end an unwanted pregnancy, instead of springing for a tummy tuck after the baby was born.

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