Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Military abortion ban and the horrific story of a female soldier

Folks, it takes a lot to trigger me; not just to make me mad - we all know how easily I can rant about something. But this story literally had my mouth gaping and left me feeling sick. Kathryn Joyce, who you may remember as the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, has written an article on the US military's abortion ban. I didn't even know such a ban existed, but the horrifying part comes when you realize how this actual affects women.

Sorry for the huge quote, but it's a must read (with bold emphasis mine). Article is fairly long, so click the link above for the full thing. Also, warning that this contains some graphic imagery.

For military women, who lack all rights to medical privacy, facing an unplanned pregnancy is a daunting obstacle. Thanks to anti-abortion forces in Congress, military hospitals are banned from providing abortion services, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest (and for the latter two, only if the patient pays for the service herself). Amy says her options were “like being given a choice between swimming in a pond full of crocodiles or piranhas.”

“I have long been aware of the stigma surrounding this circumstance and knew my career would likely be over, though I have received exceptional performance reviews in the past,” Amy explains. Although Fallujah has a surgical unit, and abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures, Amy knew that if her pregnancy were discovered, she would be sent back to her home base at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where she would then have to seek a private abortion off-base, or she could request leave in Iraq and try her luck at a local hospital. She also knew she could face reprimands from her commanding officers for having had sex in Iraq (part of a broader prohibition on sex in war zones), and that she might not be promoted as a result: a potentially career-ending situation in the Marines, where failure to obtain regular promotions results in being discharged. Moreover, as a woman in the military, accustomed to proving herself to her male peers over her six-year career, Amy was wary of appearing a “weak female.”

“If you get sent home for something like that, everyone will know about it,” says Amy. “That’s a really bad stigma in the military. I thought, that’s not me, I’ve worked harder and I could outrun all the guys. So I chose to stay, and that was just as bad.”

From a remove of two years, Amy now sees the sex that resulted in her pregnancy as rape: something that may have qualified her for an on-base (though self-funded) abortion. However, at the time, because the rape wasn’t brutally violent, and because she had seen fellow servicewomen be ostracized for “crying rape” in the past, she imagined nothing but trouble would come of making a complaint.

Instead, using herbal abortifacient supplements ordered online, Amy self-aborted. Unable to find a coat hanger she used her sanitized rifle cleaning rod and a laundry pin to manually dislodge the fetus while lying on a towel on the bathroom floor. It was a procedure she attempted twice, each time hemorrhaging profusely. Amy lost so much blood on the first attempt that her skin blanched and her ears rang. She continued working for five weeks, despite increasing sickness, until she realized she was still pregnant.

The morning after her second attempt, she awoke in great pain, and finally told a female supervisor, who told Amy to take an emergency leave to fly back to the United States where a private abortion clinic could finish the procedure. However, Amy was afraid that she would miscarry on the 15-hour plane ride and have no medical escort to help her. She went to the military hospital instead and told the doctor everything. Shortly thereafter, her company first sergeant and other officers were notified of Amy’s condition. The first sergeant came to her hospital room to announce that Amy would be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which addresses violations of general regulations, for having had sex in a war zone.

That night, Amy miscarried alone in her shower. Fearful of the advice of a sympathetic female officer who suggested that Amy might be charged for the abortion as well (she wasn’t), she flushed the fetus down the toilet. “I don’t believe there was ever a life or a soul there,” Amy says, “but I feel undignified for doing that.” When her nonjudicial punishment (a plea sentence for a misdemeanor-like offense) went through, Amy was fined $500 and given a suspended rank reduction.

Master Sergeant Keith Milks, a public affairs officer in Amy’s former unit, the II Marine Expeditionary Force, says he can’t comment specifically on Amy’s case, as the administration action of the punishment and Amy’s personnel details are covered by privacy provisions. However, he says, her sentence is in keeping with the options for disciplining soldiers for breaking the prohibition on sex in a war zone.

At Amy’s request, she was sent home from Iraq, after a military psychiatrist determined that she was “too psychologically unstable” to remain, and diagnosed her with acute anxiety, PTSD, and depression. “They convinced themselves that anyone who would do a self-abortion is crazy,” Amy says. “It’s not a crazy thing. It’s something that rational, thinking women do when they have no options.”

What. The. Fuck.

I really don't know if I can comment on this issue without becoming too emotional, but I'll try my best. No, I've never had an abortion, but the idea of being put through this situation terrifies me. To know that a clump of unconscious, parasitic cells is more important to some people than the life of an adult woman - than my life - nauseates me. And a life is what's at stake when you ban abortions. Women will chose abortion when it's the right option for them, and they will do it by any means possible. The only only thing banning abortion does is increase the death of women.

To think that these women are fighting for our rights, yet don't even get to exercise theirs... That they're labeled as crazy because they want to terminate their pregnancy... That all of their options include stigma and career trouble...

Goddamnit. And people call me a feminazi because I point out women and men are not yet equal. If you can still say that after reading that piece, you're heartless.


  1. Are there equal punishments for men who have sex in war zones? How would you even police something like that? Why would you even police something like that?

  2. Wow. I'm usually a pretty cynical guy but this kind of story shakes me to the bone. The fact that she had to attempt to perform her own abortion TWICE reminds me why being pro-choice is the only rational and humane position. No woman should ever have to suffer through something like that.

  3. Yeah, what the hell, I mean just... what the hell.

  4. The reason the army would police sex is because sexual relationships can cause a lot of problems that could put lives at risk. I would imagine men would get the same punishment, the problem though is that men don't get pregnant so it would be harder to prove for a male.

    Also, as to the abortion. You got to remember that people who are pro-life don't view the fetus as a bunch of unconcious cells that mean more than you do. Rather, they view the fetus as a human being who has the same rights to life, liberty, and freedom as you do. So until you convince a pro-lifer that the fetus isn't human you are not going to get any sympathy. I know you think it is ignornant and stupid to think a bunch of cells is human, but that is the case. Even Christopher Hitchens and most Atheist libertarians I know think the fetus is human, at least to a certain degree. I don't have sympathy for SS guards, so in the same way a pro-lifer won't have sympathy for someone who aborts their "child".

    What you should do is come up with a solid definition of what a human being is and then show how the fetus doesn't qualify. Because until you do that your just preaching to the choir. Or, you could go the Peter Singer route, which is pretty consistent but golly, that's a tough sell.

  5. This is appalling, plain and simple.

    @Anonymous: What do you have against Peter Singer? I think he makes perfect sense.

  6. No options? No options she liked.
    While I agree with the fact that it is stupid to ban abortion (not only in the army, but everywhere), she had more than one option. The fact that she chose none of the available options and just did the most stupid thing that came to mind coupled with the fact she willingly joined the army (the institution that KILLS people) makes her completely insane in my book.

  7. Ah, I love how all the heartless bastards so far are anonymous. Lovely and predictable.

    You know, even if I thought a fetus was fully human (which I don't), I would still chose the life of an adult female with friends, family, feelings, and goals over something that isn't even aware it exists yet. And that is what you are choosing between when you ban abortion. All banning abortion does is KILL WOMEN. If pro-lifers really care about life, they would help people avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place (aka, teaching safe sex) - a cause most of them equally hate.

    If you don't understand why this women chose this option, you are painfully oblivious to male privilege. Women are being punished with humiliation and career obliteration because they're women, not because they had sex, because it's infinitely easier to catch the woman than the man. Should she had been fined? Yes, just as her partner should have (no idea if he was). But the further restrictions on abortion (which, if provided to US citizens should be provided to our soldiers) are simply an extreme form of slut shaming.

  8. I know of several couples who are childless and are desiring to adopt in situations like this. Also for "options," that is why an institution like Vision of Hope exists right here in Lafayette, IN.

    Vision of Hope...
    ...and it is free

    Get a lot of rest Jen over semester break. After my sister "recovered" from mono, she had a relaspe because she pushed herself to hard.

  9. This is just sad and I don't know what to say, being a male and knowing I can never truly understand what she went through.

    Fuck all the fundies that took over our Armed Forces and turned them into Jesus Camp. They can all be raped by a fucking Walrus.

  10. This is a horrifying story. No woman should be in the position where she feels that she must have an abortion or else lose her career and everything she's worked for her whole adult life. That she's punished for having "sex" and also would have been punished for reporting a rape is sickening.

    I've said it before: I don't believe that only women should be allowed to discuss abortion, but I do believe that anyone who doesn't understand the ongoing patriarchal injustices perpetuated against women and their bodies should go away and come back after they've learned. And I say this as someone who opposes abortion -- I just know better than to think that the current political tactics being used to fight it are going to solve a damn thing.

  11. So, was the man she had sex with also reprimanded, fined, and dropped in rank? She wasn't impregnated by a disembodied penis, so unless the father was one of the locals, someone else was having sex in a war zone.

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  13. Holy shit, how did I miss the rape part of that story? Rape is a violent crime, regardless of how much force is used. Women very rarely "cry rape", and that thought is what keeps most women from ever reporting them.

  14. Sorry, I had a misspelling in that comment, so I deleted and re-posted it. I didn't realize it would keep record of the post.

  15. Oh Anonymous #1, thank you so much for explaining things to us. You've truly made some novel points that no one here has ever considered before. [/sarcasm]

    1) Yes, there are reasons for militaries to police sex within war-zones, but the point is that these policies inordinately affect women because they can get pregnant. It's also of note that Amy says the sex that led to her pregnancy was rape, but due to it not being "brutally violent" she may not have been believed. If she was believed, she still would have been shamed for "crying rape". If you don't see why that combination of policy and culture doesn't fuck over women, I don't even know what to say.

    2) The mainstream pro-life view is illogical and ignorant. They claim that an embryo/fetus has personhood that is equivalent to the woman carrying it, which is ignorant of our current knowledge about human prenatal development. Their view is illogical because if their opinion is that "the fetus as a human being who has the same rights to life, liberty, and freedom as you do" then whether the embryo/fetus is a product of consensual sex or not would be irrelevant to the matter of abortion. However, the mainstream pro-life view, as reflected in the Marines' policy, is that abortions are justified if it wasn't that darned slut's fault she got pregnant. This indicates that their motivation has less to do with protecting human life than it does with punishing women who have sex in ways their prudish little minds disapprove.

  16. I'm having a hard time coming up with a more coherent comment than... fuck, that article makes me sick.

    And just a side note... yes, the rape factor makes this even worse, but even if she had sex completely willingly, she has every right to that goddamn abortion.

  17. Does anyone else think it's likely she may have been raped by a fellow serviceman?

  18. Another common story that screams 'bullshit' - what's with the 'shove something pointy up your vagina' that will magically induce an abortion? There's vaginal tissue, cervix, and uterus all in the way, also a good chance of perforating said tissues (or even scrambling other vital organs) and causing a lot of damage and still not inducing a miscarriage. Why do people not do a little research into anatomy?

  19. Also, if there was an actual rape scenario, she was a soldier trained to fight so she should have fought back, preferably popping his testicals like zits and he'd be singing soprano for life.

  20. Ah, and now we have victim blaming. Wondered how long that would take.

  21. WRT the humanity of foetuses: as the father of five grownupish kids I can state categorically that human life starts at about the age of 25---if you're lucky!

  22. Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. The old "it's her own fault, she didn't fight back hard enough" horseshit. Do us all a take a short walk off the nearest long drop as soon as possible.

    People are never scared or uncertain in uncomfortable or frightening situations. They never freeze up or become emotionally detached from what's going on. And they certainly never blame themselves for what's happening out of embarrassment. Because human beings are perfectly logical, predictable creatures who always have the appropriate reaction in every situation.

  23. Because there is nothing really to say that hasn't been said on the main issue of this I would like to talk about some things that are not directly related.

    I would like to point out that the new, "intelligent" anti abortion, misogynists' argument is "the potential for life". Which is just as stupid, if not more so. They know that they are scientifically wrong so they pull at the heartstrings.

    I know that this does not apply to this case but I feel that any type of sex should be prohibited in a war zone. Married people should not be in the same combat area and sex just complicates things in any case. Furthermore, it is just plain irresponsible to have heterosexual sex without protection in a war zone. Both parties who do that should face the fullest consequences possible. And it is too bad that the evidence is so much more obvious in women. It is the same as when two criminals are running from the police. They catch the slow one even though both are just as guilty. If anyone has any suggestions on how to remedy this I would be interested in hearing them.

    I also believe that the incidence of rape in the military is far higher than reported.

    Lastly, I agree with you that men and women are not equal but I probably disagree as to where the most egregious inequalities lie.

  24. I'm sorry..this is just pain vile.... why are american military women treated like this ?? A woman's body is her body and whatever she wants to do with it is her right and no-one else has the right to vilify, persecute, fine or make her feel bad about it.... and no I'm a man..and my mother wasn't a feminazi.... it's plain common sense equality... a man can never know how it feels for a woman to be pregnant..and so a man has no right to legislate, stigmatize or punish a woman because of her choice.

    I think these stupid rules are due to the previous administration utter pandering to fundamental christo-goons....and it's obscene..

    In fact if you blanken out the mention of the US you'd think it was something going on in the Middle East...in muslim countries where women are still chattels.

  25. As a war veteran and a father of 4, one of whom is currently serving in Afganistan, let me weigh in on the subject.

    Rape within the service is higher than reported. In my experience, the ban on sexual conduct is rarely, if ever, enforced on men. The UCMJ is gender-blind with regards to assault, rape, and sexual misconduct, but in practice, punitive measures are only consistantly enforced upon women. The exact measures will vary according to the commanding officer, who are not without compassion, but invariably the culture norm that "men are studs / women are sluts" influences the decision. And yes, there is a culture of boys-club mentality that supports this atrocious double standard.

    The idea of a sex-free war zone is a relatively recent occurance in world military history. Basically, nothing keeps the soldier's morale up better than sex, so sexual liasons between each other, with the local populace, prostitutes and camp follows, etc., was encouraged, or overlooked, depending upon the culture. The only consistant restriction was placed upon relations between officers and enlisted, as this was seen to disrupt the chain of command.

    I'd be happy to continue this discussion with the various dissenting Anonymous's that have commented. You know, because I actually know what the hell I'm talking about.

  26. @dejuan: Thanks for weighing in. It's insightful and appreciated.

    And I agree on the bar on sex in a war zone. First of all, it's completely unable to be enforced. People will find a way to fuck, no matter what. And, as you said, it keeps moral up. These people are isolated from friends and family in a foreign country where they don't speak the language, *and* oftentimes they're putting their lives at risk. I have no problem with letting them get some nookie, not only to avoid becoming completely depressed/suicidal/insane.

  27. I dont personally agree with abortion. BUT I am not going to judge the woman next to me who had one. It is her CHOICE to make, no one elses. So no matter why she got pregnant, it is her choice.

  28. Also note, sex in a war zone is illegal. So none of those hospitals will be carrying birth control either. Just to throw another wrench into the discussion if you haven't thought about that yet.

  29. Makes you wonder if equality will ever be achieved, doesn't it?

    It makes no sense at all, and pondering the concept of a woman being unable to choose in the armed forces of the United States...makes me very glad to live in Canada.

  30. Liberalized abortion policy would solve this problem...getting people to realize this is a challenge

  31. Re: Sex in a war zone, and especially in regards to comment #1... while I'm sympathetic to some of the potential motivations here (not having your soldiers off frolicking and getting STDs and pregnancies and other complications that could take them out of the game), such a prohibition is obviously only practically enforceable against female soldiers who are unfortunate enough to have an unwanted pregnancy. It's one of those things that isn't theoretically sexist, but in practice it can only ever be a tool of oppression.

    The ban on sex in a war zone should either be eliminated or else reduced to a hand-slap (or even just a strong suggestion) because of the reality of unequal enforcement.

    But this should all come as no surprise. Some may recall the story on PZ's blog from quite a while back about a military wife who was carrying a fetus that could not survive more than a few days outside the womb, and, because it was not going to develop a brain anyway, could not be termed a human being in any reasonable sense of the word. (And anyone who would think that God put a "soul" in that monstrosity clearly thinks even more negatively of the Xian god myth than I do) Because federal regulations prevent military insurance from covering abortions, they refused to pay for it, and the family got stuck with a $4000 hospital bill -- and a horrific personal tragedy to boot. It wasn't considered "medically necessary" because technically speaking she could still reasonably safely give birth to the fetus. How sick is that??

  32. Good news…
    General backs off threat of court martial of pregnant soldiers and apparently men were punished as well.
    I am thankful for this for many reasons.

    But, this kind of extremely sad situation indicates a very broken world from many different vantage points—the most obvious one is war. And, each post here screams for justice from a certain perspective. Whether the call is for justice regarding the broken governmental policies, or justice regarding equality of sexes, or justice for reproductive rights, or justice for the rapist, or justice for the unborn, or justice in the form of “rape of the fundies” by an amorous “walrus,” the question that each post seems to scream is “Where is the justice!?”

    Yet there is none… isn’t this the world that blind physical forces and genetic replication has produced? And won’t these forces continue their blind march toward undetermined ends which have no meaning and certainly no guarantee of equality of life forms or parasites. (BTW: Does anybody scientifically know when a clump of parasitic cells cease to be a parasite and become human? Or bigger question, what really scientifically distinguishes a parasite, animal, slug, from a human anyway?)

    “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice.” -Dawkins, River Out of Eden (in the context of the tragedy of a bus crash that killed children)

    “That rhetoric of mine about blind physical forces and indifference and nature/DNA neither cares nor knows…maybe you are right that that portrays a hideous world. Well maybe the world is a hideous world. That doesn’t make it not true.” -Dawkins

    “Okay, suppose there is no hope. Suppose there is no justice. Suppose there is nothing but misery and darkness and bleakness. Suppose there is nothing that we would wish for or nothing we would hope for. Too Bad. That doesn’t make it true just because (the concept of ) God would make us feel good.” -Dawkins

    Evolution has apparently produced in us a deluded wish for true justice, something more, something significant, something meaningful, something hopeful, something that lasts beyond us….

    On that note…Have a deluded Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or Hanukah, Solstice, winter break, etc.

    Must there be more to life…?

  33. "And people call me a feminazi because I point out women and men are not yet equal."

    That's not the only reason people call you that, although you obviously are a gender feminist. Of course, you're right, though; for the past four decades, the male gender has been persecuted by people sharing your warped ideology. Interestingly, one of the related links below this post is "How to Detect Sociopathic Behavior Upon Meeting Someone for the First Time".