Sen. Susan Collins is among those fighting for servicewomen who have been violated twice

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington last year.
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington last year.
By Tamara Dietrich, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
Posted June 03, 2012, at 6:17 a.m.

No war against women? Try telling that to the women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

In two very particular ways, our servicewomen are on the front lines of this war-that-isn’t:

First, they run twice the risk of being raped as their civilian counterparts.

And, second, they alone — unlike most other women in the federal system — get no health coverage for abortion resulting from rape.

Studies have long shown that a woman doubles her risk of sexual assault just by joining the military. And every year, reports of sexual assault increase.

Last year, there were 3,192 such reports — a 1 percent rise over the previous year, according to the Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, released in April.

The DoD estimates as many as 85 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported, so the actual annual figure is likely closer to about 19,000.

Hampton Roads, with its high concentration of active-duty military and their families, should be especially appalled by this version of targeted violence against women in uniform — usually by their own comrades.

In a prepared response to the report, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insisted “sexual assault has no place in this department. It is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and to the good honor of our service members and their families.”

But the affront doesn’t end there. It continues when servicewomen are discouraged by their superiors from reporting sexual assaults, or punished when they do.

And it culminates when a servicewoman becomes pregnant as a result of that rape, and discovers Congress has singled her out her to deny her insurance coverage for an abortion.

Congress doesn’t deny that coverage to other women in the federal system — not to government employees, not to Medicaid recipients, not to federal inmates.

Only to women in military service to their country. Only they must scrounge for private funds to pay for an abortion. And, once they find the money, they must then find a doctor to provide it — most overseas military hospitals are forbidden to provide abortion care.

The heartening news is that on May 24 the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a provision to fund abortions for servicewomen in cases of rape and incest. It would finally grant them the same coverage already provided women in most other branches of the federal government.

“This is about equity,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., was quoted as saying. Shaheen sponsored the amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

But, to the surprise of no one, many in Congress have a real problem with equity. It has consistently rejected similar amendments, including one late last year. And another in 2010.

The Senate committee did just give it bipartisan support, with Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Susan Collins of Maine voting in favor. But even if it passes the Democrat-controlled Senate, it may well get torpedoed later this year by the Republican-controlled House.

Anti-abortion activists are fighting the measure tooth and nail. They say it would threaten “military readiness” and morale. That it would discourage young doctors who don’t want to perform abortions from enlisting — although precedent has long shown that military doctors who oppose abortion wouldn’t be forced to perform them.

They say the current ban reflects the “moral and fiscal values” of Americans — but a Gallup poll in May found 77 percent of respondents approve of abortion in all cases, or under certain circumstances.

Granted, Gallup didn’t ask respondents how they felt about funding abortions for servicewomen who have been raped, but I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that most would have no problem with it.

Incredibly, a constitutional law expert associated with the conservative National Center for Public Policy dismisses government-funded abortions for servicewomen who’ve been raped as the “crisis du jour.”

Horace Cooper claims lifting the ban is a ploy by abortion advocates.

“This is part of expanding pushing abortion,” Cooper told the Air Force Times, “and trying as much as possible to find circumstances to use taxpayer dollars to do it.”

No. This is about no longer dishonoring women in uniform — women already traumatized by rape, then victimized again by ideologues within their own government.

(c)2012 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/03/opinion/contributors/sen-susan-collins-is-among-those-fighting-for-servicewomen-who-have-been-violated-twice/ printed on December 24, 2014