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editorial | abortion coverage

Fairness for women in uniform

IF A woman working for almost any arm of the federal government is raped and becomes pregnant, her insurance would cover an abortion. But if she is serving her country in the military, it wouldn’t. A long overdue measure now pending before the US Senate would cover the cost for American servicewomen victimized by rape or incest. The measure should pass.

Members of the armed forces are the only category of federal employees whose health insurance does not cover abortions in case of rape or incest. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire wants to fix this disparity through an amendment to the 2012 defense appropriations bill.

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Her amendment does not change other prohibitions on federal funding of abortion. And far from being a controversial new front in a culture war, the measure should be seen as a realistic response to a serious problem. Women in the military are sexually assaulted with alarming frequency. The Service Women’s Action Network has estimated that there were over 19,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault in the US military in 2010. While the military needs to take far more stringent measures to stop rape, women in uniform should at the least have a realistic choice to end a pregnancy that results from a crime.

Women in the Armed Forces deserve the same protections as any other federal employee. When the Shaheen Amendment is brought up for consideration before the full Senate, both John Kerry and Scott Brown should stand strongly in support of it.

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