Unintended pregnancies higher among military women

Capt. Aimee Tibbetts participates in the "Hope for Cures" workout of the day. Tibbetts is eight months pregnant and says CrossFit workouts have kept her healthy during her pregnancy. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon)

In 2016, the military will lift the current restrictions on women in combat, which is expected to open up as many as 245,000 jobs that were off-limits to women in the past. Women who deploy overseas may face obstacles in another area that will affect their military experience: contraception.

Women in the military have a rate of unintended pregnancy that is 50 percent higher than women in the general population. But, because of federal rules, their insurance generally doesn’t cover abortions.

According to NPR, Tricare, the health care plan used by more than 9 million active and retired members of the military, covers most contraceptive methods that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Active duty service men and women pay nothing out of pocket, while Spouses and dependents of service members may face co-payments in some instances.

The problem women in the military face is that all methods aren’t necessarily available at every military hospital and clinic. When they are overseas, women may have difficulty getting refills of their specific type of birth control pill.

According to Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, “It is unfortunate that here we have the military, that has one of the best health care systems in the country, and where we still have a gap is in contraception.”

Statistics show that 15 percent of active duty service members are women, and 97 percent of them are of childbearing age.

A recent study based on more than 28,000 responses to a Department of Defense survey, found that after adjusting for the larger concentration of young women in the military, the rate of unintended pregnancy among military women was 7.8 percent, compared with 5.2 percent among women in the general population.

Daniel Grossman, a co-author of the study and the vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, said that “It’s critically important to address unintended pregnancy in the military, because it can be particularly damaging to women’s careers, and it’s hard to access abortion care.”

According to Department of Defense health officials, abortion is provided at a military facility or covered by military health care only in situations where a woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape. But women who want an abortion in other circumstances must use a non-military health care provider and pay for the procedure out of pocket.

In the House and Senate versions of the upcoming spending bill for the Pentagon, there are measures that would affect contraception coverage in the military. The House version would make available a broad range of FDA approved contraceptives at military treatment facilities, providing women with enough contraceptives to last for the duration of their deployment. The Senate version of the bill would guarantee family planning education and counseling.

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