With the United States Supreme Court poised to undo fifty years of judicial precedent by reversing its landmark 1973 Roe versus Wade ruling, which guaranteed access to abortion as a constitutional right, anxiety is surging among Americans who may lose their bodily autonomy at the whim of the Court’s right-wing majority.
But the impact of the Court’s forthcoming decision will not just be felt on Main Street. Women enlisted in the American Armed Forces, who are often the victims of unprosecuted sexual assault, now face a future in which their very ability to serve is under imminent threat.
Former Navy veteran Allison Gill, who hosts the podcasts Mueller, She Wrote and The Daily Beans, published an editorial in The Washington Post on Wednesday chronicling her own harrowing experience and spelling out the dangers awaiting female military personnel.
Gill revealed that she was one of the thousands of women who were subject to abuse by their superior officers and were not only denied justice but were punished for reporting the crime.
“When I was 21, I was drugged and raped violently while serving in the military, a crime that resulted in pregnancy,” she began. “Had I not had access to abortion, the assault would have ended my career and derailed my life. Should Roe be overturned and access to abortion restricted for female service members across the United States, military readiness would be directly affected.”
The data does not lie – the problem is enormous.
“Rape in the military is prevalent: In 2018, the Defense Department reported that roughly 20,500 service members experienced sexual assault, up from 14,900 two years before,” Gill noted.
The scheme by Republicans in many states to enact so-called “trigger laws” that would criminalize abortion upon the termination of Roe, coupled with the taboo surrounding holding the perpetrators accountable, means that options for rape survivors in uniform would largely evaporate.
“This will immediately affect active-duty service members, who don’t exactly get to choose what state they serve in, and who don’t have the freedom to travel to other states without a leave ‘chit’ approved up the chain of command — a command that is notoriously bad at dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Of the 20,500 service members sexually assaulted in 2018, only one-third reported the assault, and 43 percent of those who did said it was a negative experience,” Gill explained.
Gill expanded upon her story, which underscored her point:
Potential workarounds such as mail-order abortion medication would most likely be unfeasible. When I served, mail went through the chain of command, and there were inspections to prevent the receipt of contraband. Although I don’t know whether abortion pills received through the mail today would be confiscated, I do know I never would have ordered them, for fear of being caught and disciplined.
When I tried to report my rapist, I was asked the same questions so many victims have heard before: What were you wearing? Were you flirting? Are you in a fight with your boyfriend? A higher-ranking officer told me I could lose my prestigious nuclear position. He said I’d be dishonorably discharged for filing a false report and court-martialed for adultery because my rapist was married.
‘Let’s just chalk this up to what it was,’ he said. ‘Bad judgment on your part.’
I left believing it was my fault — a lie that took over a decade of therapy to undo — and I was terrified to mention it to anyone.
Gill was able to have an abortion and access counseling services because the procedure was legal. But in a country without Roe, victims will be left to suffer and potentially die.
“Service members without ready access to abortion care would be trapped,” Gill continued. “A service member who is raped and becomes pregnant could essentially be forced by the government to carry their pregnancy to term and give birth to their rapist’s baby.”
Gill then urged President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Congress to pass into law the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which would “create policy granting leave for reproductive-health travel” and “proposes taking the decision to prosecute rape and assault out of the chain of command, which would give active-duty service members a safe space to report.”
Unfortunately, the bill is currently stalled in the broken Senate. That, to Gill, is an affront to the government’s sacred obligation to the welfare of women in the military.
“This lack of protections is unacceptable. Forcing service members with unwanted pregnancies to covertly seek abortion care — or to carry a pregnancy to term — would be inhumane,” Gill concluded. “If the United States values women’s military service, it must find a way to ensure they have a choice.”
Thankfully, however, there is new movement toward accomplishing this.
Last week, Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and seven Democrats wrote a letter to Austin asking him to “consider implementing policy changes to allow servicemembers to obtain [special permission] in order to travel out of state for reproductive healthcare and abortions if they are stationed in a jurisdiction that curtails these rights.”
The lawmakers added that “the men and women who join the military sacrifice an incredible amount in order to serve their country. We owe it to these servicemembers to look after them and ensure they have the ability to continue accessing safe reproductive healthcare no matter where in the nation their military service sends them.”
Democrats in the House of Representatives have also pressed the Army about pursuing similar guidelines.
Featured image: Female American Soldier