June 19, 2022

Overturning Roe: What Might This Mean for Military Culture?

By Dr. Kyleanne Hunter

The news that Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned has sent shockwaves throughout women’s and human rights advocate communities. While the end of the protections that Roe has historically afforded will affect women throughout the United States, military service women will be uniquely impacted. Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Oklahoma—all homes to major military instillations—have “trigger laws” that will go into place immediately upon Roe being overturned, effectively banning abortion for women in those states. And bills currently working their way through the legislatures of states such as Florida and Arizona in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision will restrict access to abortion in those states.

With the repeal of Roe, women stationed in states that either have a trigger law or are poised to enact more stringent abortion bans will be faced with sharp reductions in their health care options. While Title 10 of the U.S. Code restricts the Department of Defense from funding abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the mother’s life, access to safe and legal abortion is a health care option that has been an essential part of military service women’s lives. Women in the military are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy than their civilian counterparts. Additionally, women in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted and victims of intimate partner violence than their civilian counterparts, factors that increase the risk of unintended pregnancy. Restricting access to abortion may therefore have an outsized effect on women in the military.

With the repeal of Roe, women stationed in states that either have a trigger law or are poised to enact more stringent abortion bans will be faced with sharp reductions in their health care options.

Lawmakers have pressed the Defense Department to ensure that service members have access to safe and legal abortion even if Roe is overturned. The department and the military services have been deliberating as to how to best respond. The policy options being discussed will likely address practical challenges associated with the loss of Roe protections, but they may also create additional concerns.

While the overturn of Roe and the introduction of more restrictive state-level abortion laws will have impacts on individual service women seeking abortion as part of their health care needs, there is also the potential for a cultural backlash against women in the military in general. Moreover, policies aimed at improving conditions for service women have suffered in implementation due to poor communication about them and the continued prevalence of outdated gender norms.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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