Combat and Contraception

Photo Credit New York Times (Branden Camp/AP)

Perhaps the recent political shenanigans have trumped this (hehe, get it?) but did you know that just last week, the Secretary of Defense announced that ALL jobs in combat units in the U.S. military to women?  Yup, you read that right.  Now women can be Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, or serve in any other combat job where they meet the criteria.  So what, you say?  Well, when I was growing up—not that long ago—I remember asking my dad after watching The Hunt For Red October (which btw is a great movie that still holds up) why there were no women on the submarines in the film.  My dad awkwardly explained that women were not allowed to serve on subs.  I was confused—“what if they’re really, really strong and smart?” I asked.  “Nope” said my dad. Not in 1990.  But today?  You bet!  And anywhere else they want to serve.

Why is this something to be reported on this particular blog you ask?  Well, because women in combat zones have struggled to get the contraceptives they need.  With rates of unplanned pregnancy for women in the military estimated to be 50% higher than among young women in the general population, we need to do better.  Not to mention, military women face particular concerns when choosing a contraceptive method—can they remember to take a pill across time zones and odd hours?  Will the dry desert air make the hormonal patch fall off more easily?  Will a lack of reliable electricity for refrigeration interfere with storage of Nuvaring? During intensive combat training might their bodies be more likely to expel an IUD but the Implant might work for them?  These are just a few of the specialized concerns women in the military, particularly those serving in combat, must consider when selecting a contraceptive method. 

That’s why what Congress just did is so helpful.  Congress passed and on November 25th the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (S. 1356).  The law includes a provision to require health providers employed by the Department of Defense to provide women in the military with comprehensive counseling on the full range of contraceptive methods in 1) pre-deployment visits (which must provide specific info how different methods interact with the deployment conditions), 2) health care visits during deployment, and 3) during annual physical exams.  This would be a huge step forward in the provision of high quality contraceptive care for women serving in the military and comes at a critical time when women are serving in combat roles and breaking barriers into some of the most elite ranks within the military.

So here’s to the “really, really strong and smart” women of the U.S. military.  Go get ‘em, and go get that contraception too!

Authored by: Rachel Fey

Rachel Fey is the Director of Public Policy at The National Campaign where she is responsible for the organization’s health policy work, including implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid family planning, and the Title X Family Planning Program. She also focuses on health disparities and budget and appropriations, specifically funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and public funding for family planning.

Prior to joining The National Campaign, Ms. Fey was Manager of Government Relations at the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) where she worked on key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid and Title X Family Planning programs. Recognized in 2013 by the Professional Women in Advocacy Conference as an Up and Coming Practitioner, Ms. Fey has over a decade’s experience working in the field of non-profit reproductive health, including for the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Communication Programs.

Ms. Fey holds a BA in International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University.  She lives in Washington, DC and stamps her passport as often as possible.

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