[This post includes contributions from J.E. Dyer.]
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier from California believes that women serving in the military should have free birth control and has introduced a bill to make that belief a reality.
The steady increase in the number of women joining the military has brought additional healthcare expenditures to the forefront, most notably contraception. Speier wants to duplicate the language in the Affordable Care Act, which allows for birth control and counseling for free, and include it in the Department of Defense’s TRICARE health coverage, according to a recent press release introducing the legislation.
“The Affordable Care Act established that being a woman is not a preexisting condition,” said Speier. “We owe female servicemembers the same access to contraception and family planning services as the women they fight to protect.”
According to Rep. Speier, female servicemembers have a 50 percent higher rate of unplanned pregnancy as compared to the overall population. Moreover, as women in the military are often deployed in foreign countries, access to female-appropriate healthcare is often difficult and expensive. For Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, the bill is “critical to promoting military readiness.”
As reported by The Hill, the bill alludes to the difficulties the Pentagon is facing while trying hard to integrate women further into the military and also into direct combat positions.
What the bill actually does is mandate that all FDA approved contraceptive methods be available without copay for women under the TRICARE health system, and it also stipulates that military facilities must bear the expense of carrying what the legislation calls a “wide range” of contraceptive products.
Women comprise 16 percent of both active duty and reserve members the military. With more education and free birth control, supporters of the bill believe that rates of unplanned pregnancy will decline.
On the Senate side, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire introduced the legislation on Thursday. However, despite having 65 co-sponsors, the amendment has an even smaller chance of passing this session of Congress, since Republicans are present in much greater force and have also stated their intentions to repeal the Affordable Care Act. No Republican has decided to sponsor the legislation. Rep. Speier’s legislation will first have to endure a congressional committee before it can continue on to the House or Senate.
A previous version of the bill died during last year’s session of Congress in September shortly after it was introduced.
J. E. Dyer adds:
Speier has the wrong target here, to begin with, as the TRICARE system serves military family members and retirees, not active-duty military. But the larger point is that the military already offers free birth control to all active-duty servicewomen. No active-duty servicewoman has to make a co-pay to obtain prescription birth control or have a contraceptive device inserted. Birth control and contraception are a standard part of medical service for military members, for none of which an active-duty member ever has to pay a fee.
Democratic lawmakers have lodged complaints about the availability of some forms of birth control at some treatment facilities in combat zones. (It’s not an issue at the medical centers on major bases. On small bases, supplies may have to be ordered on a soldier-by-soldier basis, or procedures performed elsewhere by arrangement. This costs the servicewoman nothing, and is a function of foresight and scheduling, which she should be competent to do anyway if she’s being trusted to stand with her fellows in uniform as a guardian of their lives, the taxpayers’ equipment, and the nation’s defense.)
The complaints about combat zones range from somewhat justified to idiotic. Where the military medical system may need to plan better to store a larger stock of prescription items that need refrigeration, for example, it should be expected to do so. There is no need for political grandstanding about that. Where soldiers are complaining that they have “difficulties carrying multiple packs of pills from base to base, problems taking pills at the same time each day while in combat” — well, suck it up, cupcake. It’s illogical — no, it’s hysterical — to take a complaint like that and call it a problem with how the military handles birth control or contraception for female servicemembers.
There’s a reason these attempts at legislative grandstanding don’t go anywhere. It’s because that is literally all they are.