The current policy is explicit, prohibiting payment for abortions "with one single exception — where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term." Abortions in cases of rape, fetal abnormality or for mental health reasons are not covered.
Among politicians and activists opposed to abortion, there is widespread support for the overall ban on federal funding for the procedure, but varying opinions on the need for exceptions such as rape cases. In general, the current GOP-led House has taken a tough line on abortion — often hewing to views of advocacy groups such as Americans United for Life.
That group's staff counsel, Kellie Fiedorek, said she supports the current military policy.
"There exists no lack of access or demonstrated need to force the American taxpayer to pay for women's abortions whose pregnancies are a result of rape or incest," she said. "If a woman is a victim of the tragic crime of rape ... lawmakers' priority should be to ensure the perpetrator is not free to assault her or other women again in the future."
Debate over the abortion policy comes against a backdrop of widespread concern over the risk of sexual assault faced by the more than 400,000 women serving in the military.
The Defense Department said there were 3,158 reports of sexual assault involving service members last year. A pending federal lawsuit filed on behalf of victims contends sexual assaults are nearly twice as common within the military as in civilian society, and cites data suggesting that nearly one in three women reports being sexually assaulted during their military service.
Our servicewomen "serve valiantly even while they continue to experience sexual assault at shockingly high rates," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office.
Kenyon, now 30, has become a full-time advocate for military victims of sexual assault. From her home base in Bethlehem, Pa., she runs two online support services — BenefitingVeterans.org and MilitarySexualTrauma.org.
In a telephone interview, she said the abortion issue should not be decided by ideology, but rather by what's best for the troops' well-being.
"Don't be the kind of person who wants to push their morality," she said. "Think like this was your daughter, this was your sister who was raped."
American Civil Liberties Union: http://bit.ly/iwBDwH
Army sexual-assault prevention program: http://www.sexualassault.army.mil/
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