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Military women react to Dobbs decision


Women make up nearly 1 in 5 service members in the U.S. military, and many of them are now required to serve in states where abortions are banned. The Defense Department says it's working to develop policies to support those women. But as NPR's Brian Mann reports, many women don't believe they'll be protected.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Midmorning, Baily Thurby, a soldier stationed at Fort Drum near Watertown, N.Y., is at a farmer's market a few miles from her base. She's furious about last week's Supreme Court decision.

BAILY THURBY: I think it's horrible. They're bringing the church into the government, which is what not - what our country was not founded on. Religious freedom is what our country was founded on and is what I fight for.

MANN: Abortion services are still legal here, but many of the nation's biggest military bases are located in parts of the U.S. where abortions are now banned under state law, and soldiers are moved around a lot in their careers. I asked Thurby how she would react if ordered to serve in one of those bases.

THURBY: I would not be comfortable at all. Personally, I don't want kids at all, and due to my sexuality, if I were to have a kid, it would be very traumatic for me.

MANN: Under federal law, abortion services are provided within the military health care system in extremely rare cases. Women who want abortions almost always have to go off-base. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a statement after Roe was struck down saying the military is, quote, "evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health." But many military women, service members and spouses are skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Any optimism or any hope now that the military will handle this the right way is incredibly fleeting, to the point that it's really not even worth considering.

MANN: This is a former soldier and West Point graduate who's married to an Army officer. She asked her name not be used because she fears speaking out on such a politically and culturally fraught issue could impact her husband's career in the military. She believes any abortion-related promises made now by the military could be quickly reversed if a Republican administration takes over. She also fears women service members will face new pressure from officers, often men, who wield significant influence over medical care sought by those under their command.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How you approach the situation as a woman who needs reproductive care will vary enormously depending on who your commander is, depending on what you know about their, you know, religious persuasions, their political persuasions.

MANN: Military women interviewed for this story say even if the Defense Department accommodates women who wish to travel for abortions, those medical services won't be covered by the military's health insurance program. That means serious financial burdens for military families who are often low-income. Back at the farmer's market near Fort Drum, Shantel Boge is buying pizza for her two kids. She's the wife of a career soldier, and she, too, is angry.

SHANTEL BOGE: I mean, it's ridiculous. I don't see why a bunch of men get a say in what women do for religious reasons. It makes no sense.

MANN: Boge says she and her husband expect to be ordered to serve in states where abortions are banned before his career is over. They've already discussed what they'll do.

BOGE: I'm originally from Colorado, so now if I desperately decided I wanted one, I'd just go home.

MANN: But Boge says many women in the military community can't rely on family living in states where abortion remains legal for that kind of support. Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SZA SONG, "I HATE U") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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