House Votes to End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell;" Senate OKs Abortion in Military Facilities

by Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment, and Jenifer Rajkumar, Health and Reproductive Rights Fellow, National Women's Law Center

Yesterday proved to be a good day in our quest to end discrimination in the military. 

We were proud to see our Representatives stand on the floor of the House and forcefully state that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was discriminatory and downright un-American. In the end, the House voted 234-194 to allow the military to end the laws and policies that prohibit military members who are gay from serving openly.

Ending the policy was long overdue -– as the NWLC Co-Presidents said in letters to the House and Senate, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is "both discriminatory and counterproductive." Over 13,000 military members were discharged over the policy, and inexplicably women were discharged at rates that far exceed their presence in the military services.  

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar measure yesterday, putting it on track for final passage. We look forward to this policy finally being put to rest.

Happily, this was not the only victory we witnessed in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday evening. Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) introduced an amendment which would repeal the current discriminatory law that bans abortion in military facilities even if a woman pays for the abortion with her own private money. Burris’s amendment passed by a vote of 16 to 10 and will now be included in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act as it moves to the Senate floor for a vote in the coming weeks. 

We need this amendment for the safety and welfare of our brave servicewomen stationed overseas.  Unable to access abortion services in military facilities, our servicewomen serving abroad are forced to seek health care in foreign hospitals despite language barriers and the risk of inadequate care. If abortion is illegal in the country where she is stationed or if she is serving in a warzone, a servicewoman is left in a bind, unable to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion.  Without access to comprehensive reproductive health care, servicewomen are exposed to grave health risks, and some have even sought unsafe abortions or attempted to self-induce an abortion.

Out of respect for the health, safety and welfare of the brave military women who have committed their lives to our country, we hope that Congress will include Senator Burris’s Amendment in the final National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. It is about time we repeal this unjust ban and show our servicewomen the respect and justice they deserve.


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