U.S. servicewomen have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy than civilian women, yet the military does not provide or cover abortion, except in limited circumstances. Servicewomen's experiences with abortion care have received little research attention.
Twenty-one in-depth interviews with servicewomen who had had an abortion during active-duty service in the prior two years were conducted between January 2015 and July 2016. Women reported on their experiences accessing abortion, as well as their knowledge and opinions of the military's abortion policy. Data were analyzed thematically using inductive and deductive codes.
In regard to their pregnancy and abortion experiences, servicewomen cited concerns about confidentiality, stigma and negative effects on their career, which prevented half of participants from seeking care from the military. Of those who visited a military treatment facility during pregnancy, some reported feeling upset or abandoned by the lack of options counseling and referral. Women reported that the military's abortion policy had negative health and emotional consequences for servicewomen, and negative financial and logistical consequences for both servicewomen and the military. Most did not have accurate knowledge of the abortion policy. Upon learning the law, the majority believed that the military should provide and cover abortion; yet, servicewomen also expressed apprehension about the military's involvement in abortion care, because of concerns about privacy and negative effects on women's careers.
Policy recommendations to better meet the needs of servicewomen include wider dissemination of the military's abortion policy, establishing abortion referral and support guidelines, and improving confidentiality in military health services.
Kate Grindlay is an associate, and Jane W. Seymour, Laura Fix, Sarah Reiger and Brianna Keefe-Oates are project managers—all with Ibis Reproductive Health, Cambridge, MA. Daniel Grossman is director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, University of California, San Francisco, Oakland, CA.