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Good News for Military Servicemembers Who Use Birth Control

The House of Representatives and Senate are currently working on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that provides funds for the military. The bill includes provisions that support the health care needs for members of the Armed Services and their dependents.

This year, the House and Senate versions of the bill include provisions that would improve women servicemembers’ access to birth control. It provides for comprehensive counseling and education about contraception. And, the House bill would ensure a woman servicemember has access to the birth control she needs at all times, particularly when she is deployed. Read more »

Being Told "You Can't"

As a kid, and later on in school, I had dreams of becoming a bakery owner, a ballerina, a Hollywood power agent, and the editor-in-chief of the New York Times. Not once did anyone tell me I couldn’t be those things. In fact, I was always told that if I worked hard enough I could achieve any goal.

Realizing dreams sometimes involves more than hard work, but I still believe that if I seize opportunities and apply myself, I’ll reach many of my goals. I credit my optimism to having never been told “you can’t.”

But things may have been different if I had expressed a desire to be a three-star general in the military.

For decades, women in the military were told “you can’t”—not because they didn’t work hard enough or complete the necessary training and gain the relevant experience—but simply because of their gender. This is unfair, but it also works against the best interests of both the military and the country, which benefit by having the most capable soldiers filling positions—regardless of gender. Read more »

A Bad Day for Sexual Assault Victims in Congress

Yesterday, two different Congressional committees voted against protections for sexual assault victims:

  • The House Judiciary Committee, while considering a 20 week abortion ban, voted AGAINST including an exception for victims of rape and incest. During the Committee meeting, Representative Trent Franks joined the long list of abortion opponents who have claimed that the chance of “rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee, in considering a set of new protections for victims of sexual assault, voted AGAINST a provision to give the responsibility for addressing these crimes to independent prosecutors and away from the chain of command. As you may recall, there have been several very public stories in the last few months of commanders failing to pursue claims of sexual assault and overturning sexual assault convictions. And, even reports that the officers charged with enforcing these laws accused of sexual assault themselves.

It is important to note that these two votes took place in very different contexts – the House vote took place during consideration of a bill designed to limit women’s rights while the Senate vote took place during consideration of a bill that will otherwise strengthen the military’s prevention of and response to sexual assault. Read more »

Did You Know That Our Military Women Don’t Have Abortion Covered in Cases of Rape and Incest? Veterans Are Working to Fix This.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I have had the honor of meeting some of the incredible veterans – retired military officers and non-commissioned officers – who have come together to right a wrong. Currently, federal law bans coverage of abortion for military women (and military dependents) who become pregnant due to sexual assault. The vets are working to get this unfair law changed.

These officers told us that the first thing they had been taught was that it was their responsibility to “take care of the troops.” To a person, these veterans are fighting against this ban as an extension of that responsibility.

Specifically, they support an amendment to the National Defense Re-Authorization Act (NDAA) that Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) offered in the Armed Services Committee to end this ban. And, they succeeded. The Shaheen Amendment passed out of Committee with a bi-partisan vote. In fact, both Senators Carl Levin and John McCain (the Chairman and Senior Republican on the Committee) voted for the provision. Read more »

Senator Shaheen Champions Access to Reproductive Healthcare for Servicewomen

On Thursday morning, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) hosted a press briefing to call attention to the Shaheen Amendment, which would repeal the ban on coverage for abortion care for military women and dependents who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. The Amendment was voted into the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2013 (NDAA) by a bipartisan vote of 16-10 in the Senate Armed Services Committee. The NDAA is now headed to the full Senate for approval.

As a long-time fan of Senator Shaheen, I was thrilled at the opportunity to see her champion this important issue affecting our military women.

During the briefing, Senator Shaheen welcomed two high-ranking retired military officers who spoke about how under current law, military women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest are denied coverage for abortion care. Read more »

The Military Child Care System Remains a Model for Improvement

The military child care system offers a model for providing high-quality, affordable, and accessible child care, as described in the National Women’s Law Center’s 2000 report, Be All That We Can Be: Lessons from the Military for Improving Our Nation’s Child Care System, and 2004 follow-up report. The reports showed that the military child care system provides an example for the civilian child care sector to follow in addressing gaps in the quality and availability of child care. A new study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) demonstrates that the military is continuing to work to expand the supply of high-quality care and make it more affordable for families.

Department of Defense (DoD) officials told GAO that families, particularly those with infants, often had difficulty finding child care due to waiting lists at many on-installation child development centers and a limited supply of eligible off-installation child care. DoD plans to address this shortage by constructing new child development centers that will add over 21,000 on-installation child care spaces, according to the GAO report. It is also taking steps to expand the availability of off-installation child care by increasing coordination with community-based providers and helping them meet DoD quality standards. Read more »

Good News for Military Women—DACOWITS Is Back

by Holly Hemphill, Senior Counsel, National Women's Law Center The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) is again up and running. The Committee was founded in 1950 by then Secretary of Defense George Marshall to advise him on recruiting, training and effectively employing more women in the armed forces at the time of the Korean War. Read more »