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We’re thrilled to host this guest piece by Katie Stack, reproductive justice activist and speaker.

The changes to abortion coverage for survivors of rape in the military may not be quite the victory that we would like it to be – because rape exceptions rarely come to fruition for women seeking abortion care.

This past Tuesday a bipartisan committee of House and Senate members approved an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that would end the ban on abortion coverage for victims of rape. In doing so Congress is finally providing service women with the same access to abortion care that Medicaid recipients and federal prisoners receive from their government insurance plans.

The Shaheen amendment seems like common sense – for while abortion continues to be a contentious issue in the United States, the vast majority of Americans believe that it should be available to survivors of rape. Unfortunately, this victory for reproductive rights may have little impact in the real struggle for service women to obtain abortion care.

While all federal insurance now covers abortion care for rape survivors – it only does so in theory. Because getting government insurance to actually cover your abortion can be nearly impossible.

Women seeking to utilize their federal insurance benefits for an abortion are forced to jump through an excessive amount of hoops before being granted the coverage – and often clinics end up absorbing the cost of care themselves.

Most states have implemented barriers that mean that women are rarely able to get abortion care in an efficient manner. Some states require multiple doctors’ notes proving rape took place, while others require a police report (some requiring that the report have been filed with 72 hours of the incident). Given that rape is underreported and highly stigmatized means that many women who are theoretically eligible for such coverage are unable to obtain it. Of course this is in addition to having to comply with mandatory waiting periods, gestational age restrictions and other erroneous barriers.

And it is not like these federally funded insurance companies are interested in expediting the process either. A recent study (http://www.ibisreproductivehealth.org/work/abortion/barriers.cfm) found that Medicaid offices regularly become deterrents to survivors obtaining coverage by being misinformed or judgmental themselves.

For service women, this gesture is hardly a victory. Military rapes continue to be staggeringly high, and true access to abortion care is still difficult to obtain.

While the Shaheen amendment is certainly a step towards justice, it’s impact is likely more symbolic than tangible. Exceptions to bans for rape, incest, or the life of the mother serve to drawn a line between “good” and “bad” abortions and they often fail to take into account the complexity and nuance of women’s reproductive lives.

Categories: Abortion