Women now make up 20 percent of new military recruits, 15 percent of those serving on active-duty, and 17 percent of the reserve and National Guard forces. But a new report finds that women in the military report lower rates of contraception use than most U.S. women, and military women also have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies.
“Because of its potentially high burden for military women as well as the impact on military operations, prevention of unintended pregnancy is one reproductive health issue of particular importance,” said Dr. Vinita Goyal, the study’s lead author. An unintended pregnancy can limit a woman’s career advancement and future earnings in the military, so Goyal said health care providers in military communities and at the Veteran’s Administration need to be aware of women’s need for reproductive health care, including contraception access:
Goyal cited several factors that may play into the high unintended pregnancy rate for women in the military, stating that they are predominantly young, unmarried racial minorities of lower education achievement and lower socioeconomic status. The lower rate of contraceptive use was also a major factor.
“(Research shows that) 50 to 62% of servicewomen presenting with an unintended pregnancy were not using contraception when they conceived,” said Goyal. “Similar surveys of active-duty personnel of reproductive age demonstrate that although 70 to 85% were sexually active, nearly 40% used no contraception.”
Goyal stated that a possible cause for the low contraceptive use includes a lack of confidence in contraceptive knowledge of overseas military medical personnel. She also cited the Uniform Military Code of Justice’s prohibition on adultery, for which contraceptives can be viewed as incriminating evidence.
Women in the military also lack the same access to abortion care that federal civilian employees have. Currently, military insurance plans only offer abortion coverage if the woman’s life is in danger. A Senate committee passed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) amendment to ensure that military insurance plans cover abortion services in cases of rape and incest, but the measure likely could not make it through Congress.