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Abortion Services and Military Medical Facilities

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Publication Date: July 2008

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Topic: Health (Health services for women)


In 1993, President Clinton modified the military policy on providing abortions at military medical facilities. Under the change directed by the President, military medical facilities were allowed to perform abortions if paid for entirely with nonDepartment of Defense (DOD) funds (i.e., privately funded). Although arguably consistent with statutory language barring the use of Defense Department funds, the President's policy overturned a former interpretation of existing law barring the availability of these services. On December 1, 1995, H.R. 2126, the FY1996 DOD Appropriations Act, became law (P.L. 104-61). Included in this law was language barring the use of funds to administer any policy that permits the performance of abortions at any DOD facility except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or where the pregnancy resulted from an act of rape or incest. Language was also included in the FY1996 DOD Authorization Act (P.L. 104-106, February 10, 1996) prohibiting the use of DOD facilities in the performance of abortions. These served to reverse the President's 1993 policy change. Recent attempts to change or modify these laws have failed.

Over the last 3 decades, the availability of abortion services at military medical facilities has been subjected to numerous changes and interpretations. Within the last 5 years, Congress has considered numerous amendments to effectuate such changes. Although Congress, in 1992, passed one such amendment to make abortions available at overseas installation, it was vetoed.

The changes ordered by the President did not necessarily have the effect of greatly increasing access to abortion services. Abortions are generally not performed at military medical facilities in the continental United States. In addition, few have been performed at these facilities abroad for a number of reasons. First, the U.S. military follows the prevailing laws and rules of foreign countries regarding abortion. Second, the military has had a difficult time finding health care professionals in uniform willing to perform the procedure.

One policy option that had been implemented would have affected the availability of abortions overseas. This option included the hiring of civilians who would perform abortions and other medical duties. Such an option, however, may not have done much to enhance access to abortion services because the military is still limited to following local laws and regulations. In addition, questions can be raised as to whether or not the contracting costs and other costs related to the hiring of a civilian should be considered when determining the amount charged for abortion services.

With the enactment of P.L. 104-61 and P.L. 104-106, these questions became moot, because now, no DOD funds nor facilities may be used to administer any policy that provides for abortions at any DOD facility, except where the life of the mother may be endangered if the fetus were carried to term. Privately funded abortions at military facilities are permitted when the pregnancy was the result of an act of rape or incest.


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