Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell joined several military leaders this week in sending a letter to Congress that urged support for an amendment to allow the Defense Department to offer abortion coverage to servicewomen who are victims of rape and incest.
The Shaheen Amendment, included in the version of the National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate unanimously passed on Dec. 4, is currently being discussed by the two chambers.
If both the Senate and the House approve the measure, servicewomen would get the same insurance coverage as civilians covered under federal programs. Currently, coverage is provided only if a servicewoman’s life is in danger, with no exception in the case of incest or rape. Otherwise, women in uniform would have to pay out of pocket for the procedure if they were raped and their lives weren’t threatened.
Powell, a Republican, is a retired four-star general in the United States Army, a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which made him the top military officer in the nation, and a former Secretary of State.
"It has been our privilege to lead and serve alongside the brave men and women of our armed forces, and we believe that they deserve the best medical care that our country can provide,” the letter read. “We were therefore greatly disappointed to learn that, by federal statute, the Department of Defense is barred from providing insurance coverage for abortion except where a pregnant woman’s life is endangered.”
The Dec. 9 letter's authors called the current defense policy “unfair” and said it “must be changed.” They said, at the very least, military women deserve the same access to reproductive care as other employees of the federal government.
According to reports, top members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) support the amendment.