In a letter sent to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill former U.S. Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell calls on Congress to support abortion coverage for military rape victims.
“Restoring abortion coverage to our servicewomen and military family members who are survivors of rape and incest would bring the Department of Defense in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid or the Federal Employee Health Benefit program,” Powell, along with dozens of military leaders wrote. “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.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced the amendment which would allow the Department of Defense to cover the cost of abortions for servicewomen who are survivors of rape and incest.
Under current law, the Department of Defense is allowed to only provide coverage for an abortion if the servicemember’s life is in danger. There is no exemption for abortion coverage in the case of rape or incest, unlike many other federal health programs.
In a historic bipartisan vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would extend abortion insurance coverage to victims of rape in the military. If the House of Representatives decides to include the measure in its version of the defense bill, military servicewomen who have become pregnant from rape will no longer have to pay out of pocket for an abortion procedure for the first time since 1981.
Army veteran Ayana Harrell, 34, has been closely watching the progress of the amendment. Harrell says she was drugged and gang-raped in February 2001 by a group of soldiers and Marines at the Redstone Arsenal base in Huntsville, Ala. It took her three months to drum up the courage to report the rape, she says, because she had been trained to believe that soldiers are not allowed to feel or behave like victims. By the time Harrell told her senior drill sergeant what had happened, she had discovered that she was pregnant from the assault.
“The only thing he said to me was, ‘This is your thing. I don’t want to hear it. You need to deal with it however you’re gonna deal with it. Go off post and get an abortion,’” Harrell told The Huffington Post in an interview.