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A legislative proposal to have the Defense Department cover the cost of abortions for military women and Tricare beneficiaries in cases of rape and incest has drawn unanimous support from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.
Members of the committee, known as DACOWITS, voted during a Tuesday meeting in Arlington, Va., to recommend that the Pentagon "affirmatively, strongly and immediately press for passage of legislation … to provide [Department of Defense] funding" for abortions of pregnancies resulting from sexual assaults.
The vote came as no surprise from a panel that has pushed for broader opportunities for women in the armed forces, as well as improved health care for female personnel. But retired Army Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, a DACOWITS member, said there is an urgency as the House and Senate are deliberating the final version of the 2013 defense authorization bill this week.
"Military women in uniform and military women beneficiaries are not political pawns, and it is totally inappropriate to make this a political game. They are defending our nation and they deserve equity in health care when compared to other federal beneficiaries," Pollock said.
Under current law, Defense Department facilities or funds cannot be used for abortions, except when the health of the mother is in danger. In all other cases, service women and Tricare beneficiaries must pay for the procedure themselves.
According to Pollock, Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and even the federal penitentiary system provide abortion coverage in cases of rape.
"Military women and beneficiaries are treated differently than any other federal beneficiaries who survive rape and incest," she said.
The Senate's version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill contains an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that would extend coverage to the victims or rape or incest. The House version has no similar provision.
A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen wrote the chairmen and ranking members of the armed services committees Dec. 5 urging inclusion of the Shaheen amendment in the final bill. Six senators — three Democrats and three Republicans — as well as House members Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif., and Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., a retired Army colonel, signed the letter.
On Monday, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, joined 43 other retired military officers and senior enlisted personnel urging passage of the Shaheen amendment.
"At the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as civilian women who rely on the federal government for their health care. Our servicewomen commit their lives to defending our freedoms; Congress should respect their service and sacrifice and provide them with the same level of health care coverage it provides civilians," the military leaders wrote in a letter to committee leaders.
Speaking for the DACOWITS panel Tuesday, Pollock described the disparity in federal coverage as "untenable."
"At a time when the number of rapes in the military is raising widespread alarm … it's inconceivable to me that service women who are raped do not receive this important coverage," she said.