(CNSNews.com) - Congress, in the pre-Christmas rush, passed a Democrat-sponsored provision that will allow women in the U.S. military to use their health insurance to pay for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Right now, the Defense Department pays for abortion only when the mother's life is at stake.
The expanded abortion coverage is included in the defense authorization bill that is now on its way to President Obama for his anticipated signature.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who introduced the abortion measure, said on Nov. 30 -- in a speech on the Senate floor -- that it was "unfair" to deny military women "reproductive health care."
Shaheen's amendment repeals a policy that's been in place since 1981.
"After three decades of a policy that discriminated against women who put their lives on the line for us, I am so proud that we will finally begin to provide the coverage our servicewomen deserve,” Shaheen said on Dec. 21. “We have heard from so many who have said the same thing: this is an issue of equity. Women in the military should have the same health coverage as the civilians they protect."
Shaheen said under current policy, women who have been sexually assaulted, especially those posted overseas, "have been forced to seek unsafe and unacceptable alternatives to a safe abortion due to the funding ban in current law."
Some 214,000 women are now listed as active duty.
The Senate passed the Shaheen amendment in early December, and it survived in the final legislation that emerged from a bipartisan Senate-House conference committee. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) chairs the House Armed Services Committee.
Unlike most other federal health programs, Department of Defense rules did not have a funding exemption for abortion coverage in the case of rape or incest. The Shaheen amendment will give women in uniform the same health care services as most women who receive health care through the federal government.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House on a vote of 315-107 and the Senate on a vote of 81-14.