US military is below average in providing reproductive health care for servicewomen, new study shows

February 2018

A new study published by Ibis shows that the United States military is below average in its reproductive health coverage when compared to militaries worldwide—reflecting a lack of abortion coverage for servicewomen. Of the countries in the study that provided information about military abortion coverage, 68 percent fully cover abortion care for servicewomen, while the U.S. military only covers abortion in instances of rape, incest, and life endangerment. This research was completed in collaboration with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The United States has one of the largest militaries in the world, which includes 200,000 active-duty servicewomen. Although abortion is legal in the United States, our servicewomen’s ability to access this care is restricted under the federally-funded military insurance provider TRICARE,” said Ibis Reproductive Health Associate and study co-author Kate Grindlay. “In all circumstances outside of rape, incest, and life endangerment, women must pay for the procedure on their own and go to facilities outside of military command.”

For this study, researchers collected information from regional experts about military policies in 39 countries. All countries included in the study allow women to play an active role in the military and have liberal or liberally-interpreted abortion laws, which permit abortion for economic or social reasons, or upon request. The researchers then scored and compared countries’ policies on abortion and contraception coverage. Additional highlights from the study include:

  • Twenty of the countries surveyed provide full coverage for both contraceptive care and abortion care for servicewomen: Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
  • Of the countries that provided data on contraceptive coverage, 67 percent—including the United States—fully cover contraception, 13 percent provide partial coverage or coverage only under specific circumstances, and 21 percent do not cover contraception.
  • Of the countries that provided information about abortion coverage, 68 percent provide full abortion coverage, 22 percent provide partial coverage or abortion coverage only under specific circumstances, and 11 percent do not cover abortion.

“Providing servicewomen access to the full range of family planning options, including abortion, will benefit militaries by promoting troop readiness, reducing unintended pregnancies, and reducing or even eliminating the hardships that exist when services are not covered through military health insurance systems,” said Jane Seymour, Ibis Reproductive Health Project Manager and study co-author. “As female participation in the military increases worldwide, more attention to the reproductive health needs of servicewomen is needed.”

To read more, download the research brief or our infographic on study results. To learn more about Ibis's work on reproductive health access for women in the US military, visit the project page.