CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Next month, we Americans will recall the unforgettable horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent sacrifice that our country and so many of our service members have made. To date, 6,155 brave Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 113 women who laid down their lives for our freedom. An additional 606 women have been wounded in action and countless other of our patriotic sisters, mothers, girlfriends and wives bear the permanent emotional scars of war.
For over a decade, I had the privilege of serving as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. Not one day passed when I did not bear witness to sacrifices of the men and women with whom I served. Furthermore, as an OB/GYN, I became acutely aware of the many challenges faced by our brave and fearless servicewomen.
Today, more than 400,000 women serve in the Armed Forces, at every level and in every branch. And they, like my former fellow service members, are dedicating their lives to protecting the country we love.
Why then are my fellow servicewomen treated as second-class citizens when it comes to access to certain health-care services?
I was shocked to learn that under current law, our military health care program denies servicewomen coverage of abortion care when they become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
Under current law, our government provides health insurance coverage of abortion for rape and incest survivors to federal employees, women enrolled in Medicaid, women in prisons and women who receive care through Indian Health Services. And that is as it should be. But shamefully, the women who have chosen to serve our country through military service are considered undeserving by Congress. Servicewomen, and military dependents, receive no federal coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest. These policies are unjust and unfair especially given the alarmingly high rates of sexual assault in the military.
Recently, the MARCH for Military Women Act (Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health) was introduced in the House and Senate. This bill would take an important step forward by providing abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest and also allow servicewomen to use their own private dollars to obtain abortion care at military health facilities. It should be championed by civilian and military leadership and passed by Congress this year.
Many of us have strong feelings about abortion, but at the end of the day, this discussion about equal access to health care, especially for the women who willingly serve our nation in her armed forces, shouldn't be about politics or ideological debates. This is about fairness, equal treatment and compassion. It's about providing the women who risk their lives and make sacrifices on behalf of our country with the same access that we provide civilian women who also rely on the federal government for their health care.
It's time that Congress truly honors the commitment, service and sacrifice of servicewomen I have long witnessed by ensuring that they are treated fairly in all policy matters. Our military women deserve, at minimum, equal, not less, access to health services.
Dr. Flowers lives at Lewisburg.