Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Military Abortion Ban: Female Soldiers Not Protected by Constitution They Defend

Trigger Warning

image Each day that they serve, we ask soldiers to put themselves at risk for our safety.  There is no sacrifice more ultimate than  when a hero is felled in battle.   One would believe because we are asking them to risk their lives and spend mass amounts of time away from their loved ones, that we would grant them the autonomy to be able to control their own bodies, however; for women in the military such a basic right is denied.

“I have long been aware of the stigma surrounding this circumstance and knew my career would likely be over, though I have received exceptional performance reviews in the past,” Amy explains. Although Fallujah has a surgical unit, and abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures, Amy knew that if her pregnancy were discovered, she would be sent back to her home base at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where she would then have to seek a private abortion off-base, or she could request leave in Iraq and try her luck at a local hospital. She also knew she could face reprimands from her commanding officers for having had sex in Iraq (part of a broader prohibition on sex in war zones), and that she might not be promoted as a result: a potentially career-ending situation in the Marines, where failure to obtain regular promotions results in being discharged. Moreover, as a woman in the military, accustomed to proving herself to her male peers over her six-year career, Amy was wary of appearing a “weak female.”

Instead, using herbal abortifacient supplements ordered online, Amy self-aborted. Unable to find a coat hanger she used her sanitized rifle cleaning rod and a laundry pin to manually dislodge the fetus while lying on a towel on the bathroom floor. It was a procedure she attempted twice, each time hemorrhaging profusely. Amy lost so much blood on the first attempt that her skin blanched and her ears rang. She continued working for five weeks, despite increasing sickness, until she realized she was still pregnant.

The morning after her second attempt, she awoke in great pain, and finally told a female supervisor, who told Amy to take an emergency leave to fly back to the United States where a private abortion clinic could finish the procedure. However, Amy was afraid that she would miscarry on the 15-hour plane ride and have no medical escort to help her. She went to the military hospital instead and told the doctor everything. Shortly thereafter, her company first sergeant and other officers were notified of Amy’s condition. The first sergeant came to her hospital room to announce that Amy would be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which addresses violations of general regulations, for having had sex in a war zone.

That night, Amy miscarried alone in her shower. Fearful of the advice of a sympathetic female officer who suggested that Amy might be charged for the abortion as well (she wasn’t), she flushed the fetus down the toilet. “I don’t believe there was ever a life or a soul there,” Amy says, “but I feel undignified for doing that.” When her nonjudicial punishment (a plea sentence for a misdemeanor-like offense) went through, Amy was fined $500 and given a suspended rank reduction.

Womens bodies bare the record of sex through pregnancy but no such visible marker exists for males.  How readily does the military punish men and reduce their opportunity for promotion based in sexual behaviour?  I suspect that this punishment is more often than not applied to female service members. We already know that women are more likely than men to be discharged for violating DADT.

It is well documented that there are extremely high incidents of rape in the military and yet even though the military is culpable of not keeping its female service members safe, they charge these women for abortions.  How cold and callous is this?  The military has always been a boys club and these rules exist to ensure that men are still in control of female bodies; accessing them and punishing them at will. 

By denying them the right to choose, the military is opening up the possibility that  women (who were never really wanted in the first place) will die.  Throughout history, no matter the circumstances, women have always found a way to exercise control over their bodies.  Outlawing abortions will only lead to women attempting this dangerous procedure on their own.  How many women have to die from botched abortions before we understand the risks involved? If a woman decides to abort a child, no legal ruling will change her decision.  That the government would force these women into taking such dangerous action, when a good medical option is available, is absolutely heinous.

We can ask these women to go to war and face all manner of atrocities but granting them the simple right to control their reproduction is too much?  Is this really showing any kind of respect for the troops?  When womanist/feminists speak about the dangers of sexism and misogyny, the denial of personal autonomy is at the forefront.  How can one truly have agency or control over ones personal body, if the decision of whether or not to reproduce is removed?