October 24, 2023

Senators seek over-the-counter birth control access for troops

Source: Stars and Stripes


More than 30 senators are urging the Defense Department to offer an over-the-counter birth control pill for service members and their families to improve troop access to reproductive health care.

The senators said they want to see health coverage for the military community expanded to include over-the-counter contraceptives such as Opill, the first nonprescription daily pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration in July.

“Access to contraception, as well as education about it, increases readiness and improves quality of life for our service members and their families,” the senators wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other Pentagon officials.

The letter is led by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Only two Republicans signed it in support: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The push to broaden contraceptive options for women in the military is part of the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision last year to end the federal right to an abortion. The landmark ruling severely limited or ended access to abortion for the 40% of active-duty service women stationed in politically conservative states.

In response, the Defense Department this year offered service members paid leave and transportation reimbursement to travel out of state for reproductive care. The policy is opposed by many Republicans and prompted Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to put a hold on hundreds of senior military promotions in protest.

About 1.6 million women of reproductive age, including service members, retirees and their families, are dependent on the Military Health System, according to the Congressional Research Service. Unintended pregnancies are 50% higher for active-duty women than other women.

Senators said service members also use contraception at a lower rate than the national population, partly because of the military-related challenges of obtaining prescriptions.

“Studies show that requiring prescriptions for contraception can be a barrier to access due to prolonged appointment wait times, difficulty scheduling time off from work and challenges finding child care during medical appointment times — hurdles that are exacerbated by the nature of military service,” the senators wrote.

They are asking the Defense Department to stock over-the-counter contraceptives in medical facilities, retail stores and pharmacies on military bases at no cost to service members and their dependents and without a prescription.

The senators also said they will continue to seek free prescription birth control pills for service members to give troops the same benefits available to civilians under the Affordable Care Act.

“As part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, contraception provides individuals control over their reproductive health and family planning,” they wrote.

By:  Svetlana Shkolnikova