Reproductive health access for women in the United States military
Although servicewomen* play an integral role in the United States military, they face unique challenges when accessing contraception and abortion care—especially during deployment, when these services may be limited. Stigma, policies, and practices prohibiting or discouraging sexual activity may prevent pregnant women from seeking the care they want, need, and to which they are entitled. Additionally, federal law prohibits the provision and coverage of abortion services in the military except in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest. Despite so many barriers to care, little was known about US servicewomen’s experiences prior to our research.
Ibis’ military work aimed to document servicewomen’s experiences with sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care, including the first study of US servicewomen’s experiences seeking abortion care during overseas deployment; a systematic literature review on contraceptive use, unintended pregnancy, and abortion in the military; two online surveys and a series of in-depth interviews with servicewomen that explored their experiences accessing and using SRH services during deployment; and analyses ofunintended pregnancy rates among active-duty women. We also explored the role that telemedicine could play in abortion provision in the military; performed a review of military insurance coverage of SRH services through TRICARE, the insurance program for military members and their dependents; and compared abortion and contraception policies in militaries worldwide.
Through this foundational work, Ibis helped to identify potential solutions for barriers to care, including changes to military policy and practice to increase access to contraception and abortion. Importantly, using our research findings, Ibis successfully advocated for expanded coverage of contraception through TRICARE in 2016. Our research continues to support ongoing advocacy efforts to ensure access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health care services for all servicewomen.
*We used “servicewomen” here to describe servicemembers assigned female at birth. However, people with the capacity for pregnancy may hold a range of gender identities other than (or in addition to) “woman.”