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Senate panel strikes down bill to allow abortions at military hospitals

Jun. 17, 2013 - 04:19PM   |  
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A measure that would allow troops and military family members to have abortions at military hospitals if they pay for the procedures themselves has failed to pass the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Legislation offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would have restored a Clinton-era policy that permitted abortions at military treatment facilities as long as patients covered the cost.

But the proposal, approved June 11 by a Senate Armed Services subcommittee chaired by Gillibrand during the defense bill markup process, was defeated by the full committee two days later in a 15 to 11 vote.

Three Democrats sided with committee Republicans to strike the measure, known as the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health, or MARCH, for Military Women Act: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly.

The issue has swung back and forth numerous times over the years in Congress.

In 1978, legislators banned the use of DoD funds for abortions with certain exceptions, including when the life or health of the mother was in danger or in cases of rape or incest if the crime was reported promptly.

Later modifications to the law further restricted the exceptions, and in 1988, DoD issued a memorandum barring abortions in overseas military facilities.

Between 1993 and 1995, however, military medical facilities were allowed to perform abortions if paid for with private funds.

During that time, 27 abortions were performed in 1993 and 10 in 1994, although the abortions conducted in 1994 were all performed under the “life of the mother” clause, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The 2013 defense bill expanded abortion services for troops and Tricare beneficiaries, adding rape and incest to the list of permissible uses of Defense Department facilities or funds for abortions.

The MARCH Act, proposed by Gillibrand, as well as a House version, introduced March 21 by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., included a conscience clause that would have allowed military doctors to opt out of performing the procedure if they objected to it.

Slaughter said the legislation is needed because the ban heavily affects female troops and Tricare beneficiaries stationed overseas where services may be inadequate or unavailable.

“Our service women deserve the right to determine their own destiny without risking their health unnecessarily,” Slaughter said on March 21.

Opponents argue the proposal would still use federal funds because the procedures would take place in DoD-funded and -manned hospitals.

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