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30 Senators Demand Expanded Military Reproductive Healthcare

There’s a move in Washington to enhance servicemember access to over-the-counter birth control and reproductive healthcare. And that move isn’t limited to internal review of healthcare regulations, there are lawsuits and investigations into a variety of complaints about federal policy on this type of healthcare in an attempt to bring DoD and VA guidelines into the 21st century.

One example of legal action meant to bring about positive change? A lawsuit brought by the National Organization for Women New York City against the VA and the DoD alleging discrimination in in vitro fertilization policy. That lawsuit was in initiated in late summer of 2033, and is ongoing at press time.

And there are other actions. From Washington, lawmakers are trying to get a better healthcare deal for service members, veterans, and families. Stripes.com reports some 30 senators asked for expanded healthcare coverage and military access to Opill, which is reported as the first non-prescription daily birth control option offered to American consumers. That medication was approved by the FDA in July 2023.

The lawmakers wrote a group letter to the Secretary of Defense expressing their concerns; it was signed by lawmakers including:

  • Senator Michael Bennet
  • Senator Tammy Duckworth
  • Senator Mazie Hirono
  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen
  • Senator Susan Collins
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski

More than a million and a half women of reproductive age depend on the military healthcare system, but service-connected issues make it more difficult for military-affiliated women to get prescriptions for contraception.

Stripes.com notes, “Unintended pregnancies are 50% higher for active-duty women than other women.”

Access to FDA-approved medications like Opill would likely change that statistic. So would expanded access to reproductive healthcare in the military. At press time there has been no action by the DoD in response, but the issues raised by the letter are ongoing.

Related: Military Benefits for Spouses and Depdendents

What the Senators Want From the DoD

In the letter to the DoD, the senators note that “…requiring prescriptions for contraception can be a barrier to access due to prolonged appointment wait times, difficulty scheduling time off from work and challenges finding child care during medical appointment times — hurdles that are exacerbated by the nature of military service.”

They are asking the DoD to:

  • Maintain inventories of over-the-counter contraceptives in DoD-affiliated medical facilities, retail outlets and on-post pharmacies.
  • These contraceptives should be provided at no cost and without a prescription.
  • Offer free prescription birth control pills
  • Provide a “full spectrum” of reproductive care.

DoD Policy, Military Reproductive Healthcare Issues

Part of the motivation for pressing DoD leaders for expanded reproductive healthcare for the troops?

The fallout from culture war squabbling in the House of Representatives. A single lawmaker has been able to keep hundreds of top military leadership positions empty because he disagrees with DoD regulations related to reproductive care.

What motivated this controversy?

  • In 2020, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote a DoD Memorandum called “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care.”
  • That document notes, “The recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has impacted access to reproductive health care with readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force.”
  • The overturn of Dobbs, according to the Secretary of Defense, raised “concerns from many of our Service members and their families about the complexity and the uncertainty that they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services.”
  • The Supreme Court ruling overturning Dobbs created an undue burden for approximately 40% of active-duty troops stationed in the United States. DoD policies were created in the wake of the decision are aimed to reduce that burden.
  • Those policies include travel reimbursement and other considerations for those who must leave their state to get legal reproductive healthcare.

The part of the memo that ignited a culture war in Washington notes the Secretary of Defense’s commitment to “taking all appropriate action, within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, as soon as possible to ensure that our Service members and their families can access reproductive health care and our health care providers can operate effectively.”

DoD Reproductive Healthcare Post-Dobbs

The post-Dobbs DoD reproductive healthcare policy was modified to include provisions for paid leave and transportation reimbursement when troops must leave their state to get reproductive healthcare.

That led one Senator from Alabama to block senior military promotions as a form of protest against that DoD policy. Unfortunately, this lawmaker’s lack of military experience on his resume suggests he is ignorant of what happens to military readiness under such conditions.

Business Insider reported that the Alabama senator “doubled down on his decision,” saying when pressed for an answer about his actions that he “wouldn’t be blocking promotions if it was hurting recruitment or military readiness.”

But readiness IS being affected, at least according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who some argue is in a much better position to know than an Alabama senator who has only been serving in office since 2021.

According to the Secretary of Defense, quoted in a separate interview, “Not approving the recommendations for promotions actually creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be.”

Related: Military Benefits for Spouses and Depdendents

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.