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February 4, 2010

Pentagon Acts to Ensure Military Women's Access to Emergency Contraception

Decision comes eight years after Bush political appointees overruled the committee's recommendation

Washington, D.C. – Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised an independent committee at the Department of Defense for adding emergency contraception (EC) to the list of medications made available to servicemembers overseas. Approximately 350,000 women serve in the military or depend on military facilities for their health care abroad.

Keenan said she is confident that the medical experts' decision, posted today on a Pentagon web site, will not meet the same fate it did in 2002, when then-President Bush's political appointees reversed the decision without explanation. This political intrusion was one of many examples of the previous administration placing politics and ideology ahead of women's health, a practice the Obama administration already has changed in many policy areas.

"This independent expert panel made the right call: Women in the military serving overseas should be able to access EC the same way women stateside do," Keenan said. "I firmly believe that this decision marks an end to the political intrusion of the previous administration that blocked military women from having this guaranteed access. It's a tragedy that women in uniform have been denied such basic health care. We applaud the medical experts for standing up for military women."

Keenan said her organization would mobilize its members to send messages to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, urging him to uphold the decision and move quickly in making access to EC available.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has long played a leading role in calling for improving military women's access to basic reproductive-health care. Among other things, the organization worked with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) to introduce the Compassionate Care for Servicewomen Act. This bill, which was a legislative response to the political interference during the Bush era, would have ensured that women in the military have access to EC, also known as the "morning-after" pill, on every overseas military base. Servicewomen and providers alike have reported that they cannot obtain the medication when they need it.

Rep. Michaud, the House bill's author, said the Pentagon panel's decision reflects a win for commonsense, common-ground policies for women's health.

"I commend this independent panel for doing the right thing for women serving in the military on oversea bases," Rep. Michaud said. "I am confident that the Obama administration will follow through with this order, a welcome reversal of the political interference that delayed women's access to emergency contraception for far too long. While this progress is made possible through administrative change, I pledge to continue working in the future efforts to unite lawmakers across the political spectrum behind commonsense, common-ground legislative proposals to improve women's access to basic health care, including contraception."

EC is a concentrated dose of ordinary birth-control pills that can significantly reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant if taken soon after sex. EC does not cause abortion; rather it is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales for adults in August 2006.

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