Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Al Franken Pushes Military To Offer Emergency Contraception To Soldiers Abroad

Monday January 11, 2010 4:24 p.m.

Lead Photo

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., following a series of votes on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Megan Carpentier

Al Franken, hot on the heels of his legislative victory to give female military contractors access to the criminal justice system if they are sexually assaulted abroad, turned his eyes this week to the female soldiers who face spotty contraception access and assaults of their own. Franken and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe introduced the Compassionate Care For Servicewomen Act to give servicewomen access to emergency contraception at all military bases--including those that are overseas.

The bill would require that all military pharmacies stock emergency contraception and offer it to servicewomen without a prescription, as the Food and Drug Administration currently allows civilian woman to obtain it. Currently, servicewomen face spotty access to emergency contraception coverage, particularly in facilities abroad, even as they were recently threatened with court martials if their primary contraception failed, if they were sexually assaulted or if they simply failed to use contraception and then became pregnant. Military facilities are not allowed to provide abortion services under federal laws covering Medicaid and Medicare recipients, soldiers and federal employees.

In 2002, the Bush Administration interfered in a Pentagon effort to add emergency contraception to its Basic Formulary, which would have required that all military medical facilities keep it in stock. Plan B was initially approved for sale in 1999 with a prescription, and its manufacturer fought for nearly the entire Bush Administration to get approval to sell it over-the-counter. The Bush Administration's foot- and knuckle-dragging over the issue was spurred on by religious conservatives that oppose all birth control--and Plan B in particular-- as "abortifacients" and a federal judge ruled last year that the Administration's decisions on Plan B were strictly political and not based on sound science.

Like Franken's anti-rape bill, his pro-contraception bill will likely be considered as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, rather than as a separate piece of legislation. It currently has 11 other co-sponsors: Olympia Snowe is the only Republican.

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