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Ensuring Servicewomen Have Access to the Justice They Deserve

Ensuring Servicewomen Have Access to the Justice They Deserve

This week, Congress will consider amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual bill that sets policy for the Defense Department by authorizing programs and suggesting funding levels. The different military-related items included in the bill provide for the safety and security of the nation and the soldiers who defend it, making it a “must-pass” bill that will garner attention and spark conversation this week. Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Shaheen (D-NH) have both offered amendments to this year’s NDAA to improve justice for service members, and in particular servicewomen, with two important reforms: improvements to the military sexual assault adjudication process and increased access to abortion at military treatment facilities.

Senator Gillibrand’s amendment 1578 would improve service members’ access to justice by removing the decision of whether or not to prosecute rape and sexual assault from the military chain of command. This proposal was one of two competing reform proposals that came up in the Senate last March. Since then, Congress has passed the other proposal, which requires reviews of commanding officers to ensure they create a command climate where a victim can report criminal activity, including sexual assault, without fear of retaliation from a commander or other members of the command. Yet, this reform is not enough. A 2014 Department of Defense report found that not only were supervisors and unit leaders responsible for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in nearly 60 percent of all reported cases, but also 62 percent of women who reported being sexually assaulted experienced retaliation—a number that remains unchanged since 2012 despite the recent reforms. By removing the adjudication process from the military chain of command, amendment 1578 would enable service members to report their assault without fear of retaliation by their commanding officer.

Senator Shaheen’s amendment 1550 would grant servicewomen better access to necessary reproductive health care. The longstanding Hyde Amendment prohibits the military insurance plan from providing abortion coverage except in cases of rape, incest, or where the woman’s life is in danger, an injustice in and of itself. At military treatment facilities in the United States and overseas, the law extends this injustice; servicewomen are prohibited from accessing abortion care except in these limited circumstances—even if they’re paying with their own funds. Servicewomen face unique barriers to accessing health care off the base, as their ability to leave the base is left to the discretion of their commanders. Moreover, if leave is granted, a servicewoman’s time off base is often limited to several hours, meaning that mandatory waiting periods and state restrictions that leave providers few and far between may prevent her from accessing that care at all. For servicewomen stationed overseas, outside care may not be an option at all depending on their host country’s abortion restrictions.

The ban on privately funded abortions at military treatment facilities is particularly unjust in light of the alarmingly high rates of sexual assault in the military—and of the significant barriers to reporting a sexual assault through the military adjudication process. Jewish tradition teaches that sexual assault is an affront to the sanctity and wholeness of every person’s body and health, and it is an abhorrent violation of human rights and fundamental dignity. Our tradition also affirms a woman’s right to be her own moral decision maker who is capable of making responsible choices about her reproductive health. Women in the military are no less entitled to this right. Although the Reform Movement believes insurance coverage for abortion should not be limited solely to cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is in danger, the Department of Defense—at the very least—should allow servicewomen to access the full range of reproductive health services if using their own funds.

Take action today; urge your Senators to support these amendments to give our service members better access to the justice and care they deserve.