I have spent years serving and fighting around the world to protect our country and our freedoms. Now I must fight for freedoms here at home and for protections in the very military in which I served.
It’s scary to imagine how losing the constitutional protection of abortion warranty under Roe v. Wade will assign women to the military. The Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that Supreme Court decision “does not prohibit the Department from continuing to perform covered abortions, in accordance with federal law”, emphasizing that “there will be no interruption of this care”. It’s good to hear, but the fact is that the current level of care is totally inadequate. When it comes to reproductive health, everything from family planning to getting your period — compounded by the continued shortage of tampons — can be a struggle for the women who serve.
Having a baby would have compromised my ability to deploy, further ostracizing me as a serving woman who “uses pregnancy” to escape difficult tasks – like going to war.
I had my first child at 18. At the time, I was dependent on my father, who was fully retired from the Air Force. Even as a teenage mother, I was treated with nothing but respect throughout the process.
Baby #2 came during my second year in the Marine Corps at age 20, and the experience couldn’t have been more different. Even though I was married, my choice to stay pregnant after birth control failed was not respected by my command and my peers, who ridiculed me and made me feel inadequate as a Marine. . At Naval Hospital, my birthing experience was procedural and traumatic. As a serving member of the Marine Corps, I was less respected and treated less than when I was 18.
Baby #3 arrived in my fourth year of service, and after six weeks of paid maternity leave, I was sent to a combination exercise program, where I was separated from my breastfed newborn for not less than 60 days. .
After these experiences and considering our financial situation, my husband and I decided that three children was enough. I requested a tubal ligation while he was undergoing a vasectomy consultation to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Doctors available to us through our military healthcare, however, refused to perform these procedures after deeming us too young – at 23 and 24 – to make such decisions regarding our fertility. We couldn’t afford direct care.
So I took birth control again. And again, I got pregnant.
I decided to have an abortion. With three children under 5, we simply couldn’t afford another person in our family. Also, it was after 9/11, and I knew a deployment to Iraq would be imminent for our unit. Having a baby would have compromised my ability to deploy, further ostracizing me as a serving woman who “uses pregnancy” to escape difficult tasks – like going to war.
After returning from touring, I became pregnant again, this time with an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition in which the fetus grew outside of my womb and would not become a baby. So I had another abortion.
These two health care choices allowed me to be the best possible mother to my three children, and they ensured that I could continue to serve my country to the best of my abilities. But currently, a woman serving can only get paid for an abortion if it is life threatening or results from rape or incest.
In addition, reproductive health is often compromised by military service. But the army does not take this fully into account in the care it provides to women. Take a contraceptive. For many women, using medical contraceptives is a volatile experience, with mood swings, weight gain and mental health declines that may require close monitoring. Add the stress of military service and the lack of institutional support, and it gets even worse. During my time in the Marines, which ended in 2007, my birth control options were the pill and the pill only, and it was administered without examination or engagement with the special needs of me, the patient.
It can also be a financial struggle. Under the Army Health Insurance Plan, inactive service members, veterans, spouses and dependents of service members face co-payments for contraceptives availabledespite the the army covers the cost of viagra for military menveterans and their families.
Birth control is a way for women to exercise bodily autonomy and their right to decide what their family is like, but the military imposes roadblocks along the way. Consistent reproductive care and access to medications are urgently needed, and service members may be waitlisted for appointments or not allowed to leave their bases for appointments due to military responsibilities. or the control that superiors exert on a whim.
Contraception is also often used by military women to control their periods, because – surprisingly – the army does little to support period; it doesn’t even provide free periodic products for members stationed abroad. Currently, the United States faces a national tampon shortage. While difficult for all women, women in the military face compounding issues that make this shortage even more problematic.
When service members are deployed, it is their responsibility to ensure that they have all necessary personal supplies for their time away from home. I could only bring two bags and was forced to use some of this limited space for menstrual products. I had to create a shipping schedule for my husband to make sure he would be able to restock the products I needed on time.
When the military is on duty or in the field, things can get worse. The women in convoys can be on the road for hours without being able to stop and change full tampons or pads. If exhausted or caught off guard, some women have been forced to use socks, t-shirts and paper towels to try to manage their rules.
Women in convoys can be on the road for hours without being able to stop and change full tampons or pads. If they run out or are caught off guard, some women have been forced to use socks, t-shirts and paper towels.
Sometimes the easiest way to avoid this is to use birth control to stop our periods, because a majority of military women would like to do – yet only 7% manage to accomplish. Once we are deployed, we have to pray that we have chosen the right pill, because it will be almost impossible to change it. Both on base and in the field, most of our health care is provided by doctors and corps men with little expertise in reproductive care.
We need and deserve better. Women should have free and unfettered access to hygiene products, as well as a health program that makes all fertility health care completely free, including whether or not to have children. Without it, and with Roe’s wards gone, we could be reverting to a time when women are removed from their military duties after getting pregnant.
Veterans and military personnel risk their lives for this country. Protecting their right to abortion and providing them with comprehensive health care is the least we can do in return. With all the sacrifices we have made and the dedication we have for our country, it is heartbreaking that this country is not dedicated to us in return.