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40 percent of active-duty female troops live in states with abortion bans or restrictions

Nurse practitioner Carmen George conducts an ultrasound at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center on Joint Base San Antonio Texas, March 11, 2022.
Melody Bordeaux / U.S. Air Force
Nurse practitioner Carmen George conducts an ultrasound at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center on Joint Base San Antonio Texas, March 11, 2022.

A new study from RAND explores the impacts of the restrictions on military readiness and retention

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, more than a dozen states have tried to ban or restrict access to abortion, including some with a heavy military presence — like Texas. A new study explored the impacts on readiness.

Analysts with the RAND Corporation estimated that 80,000 female active-duty troops live in states that ban abortion or have plans to curtail it. In other words, 40% of active-duty women in the continental U.S. “have no or severely restricted access to abortion services where they are stationed,” according to the paper.

Additionally, more than 81,000 civilian women working for the Department of Defense live in states with abortion restrictions.

Between the two groups, RAND estimates that between 5,000 and 7,400 women will seek an abortion every year but struggle to access that care because of where they live.

In 1976, shortly after Roe v. Wade, Congress first passed the Hyde Amendment, which restricted the use of federal funds for abortion. Now, federal statute bars military hospitals from performing abortions except in cases of rape, incest life endangerment. Women can’t self-pay for the procedure either.

Lack of access is especially consequential in Texas, home to major training bases like Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland.

“Texas is unique in that it has a very large junior enlisted population,” said RAND researcher Kyleanne Hunter. “We know that they’re the population most at risk for unintended pregnancies and sexual assault.”

RAND outlined three options for women employees of the Defense Department who want an abortion but live in a state with restrictions. They can request leave to travel, using their own funds, to a state where abortion is legal. They can also seek abortion care that is possibly unsafe in their state of residence. Or they can use pills to end their pregnancy.

Unintended pregnancies not only affect individual service members but the Defense Department as a whole.

“If we see more births as a result of this, then we are going to have an additional strain on the DoD dependent system as well as the childcare system, the education system, and the ability to have people who are able to work and deploy quickly,” she said.

The analysts say it’s “logical” to think more women will leave the military. Women often cite frustration with family planning and gender discrimination as reasons they chose to separate from service.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame