Picking a Fight

By lex, on June 11, 2010


There’s a back-channel DADT joke going around in military circles. It seems that there was a retiring Master Chief (Sergeant Major, Chief Master Sergeant) with 30 years of service who opened his retirement speech saying, “The service has changed a lot since I joined. For example, when I first signed on it was illegal for homosexuals to serve. Then it became OK, so long as you didn’t talk about it. Now it’s becoming permissible. I’m getting out before it becomes compulsory.”

Sorta cute. But this little-noticed proviso of the DADT repeal could well prove more than just a little controversial:

In a vote that advocates of abortion rights sought beforehand to keep quiet, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a provision on May 27 to allow privately financed abortions at military hospitals and bases. Current law bans abortions in most cases at military facilities, even if women pay themselves, meaning they must go outside to private hospitals and clinics — an impossibility for many of the estimated 100,000 American servicewomen in foreign countries, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is an assault on a convenient social compromise; a great many federal taxpayers find the use of their tax money to end what they consider to be innocent human life morally repugnant. But let’s put that aside for the nonce and focus on the pragmatic aspects: Civilian based abortion providers do what they do because they think it’s the right thing to do for whatever reason, or because there’s a lucrative market for it. Civilian OB/GYNs who don’t provide abortions avoid doing so out of moral concern or because they can’t be bothered with the hassles. But military doctors don’t get to pick and choose their patients, they take what is assigned to them.

I can’t prove this but based on my observations  of the military culture generally and the medical corps specifically, this is going to be a tough chew for military medical organizations forward and at home. There’s going to come a time when a soldier who violated military regulations by having consensual sex in a war zone is going to come forward asking for an abortion and the doctor on duty is going to deny it to her. Because federal law is controlling, his superior in command is going to order him to proceed anyway, and he’ll still refuse because the order is fundamentally contrary to his moral code. All around them will be conflicted knots of one-time team members who didn’t sign up for this sh!t.

The pregnant soldier will either get her abortion from someone else or else be sent home. (The latter option is not all that unlikely: The culture has changed since the 1970s, but for a while in Europe it was briefly permissible for military doctors to perform “therapeutic abortions” – none could be found on base willing to provide them. And again, while civilian doctors get to choose their associations, military medical personnel share enforced proximity.)

So now we will have a case of one soldier who purposefully defied legal orders and couldn’t be bothered to take precautions potentially generating a mutiny among those who refuse to follow orders that go against their most cherished values. The second order effect will be the loss of trained personnel who opt to leave the service before an immoral act “becomes compulsory.” The third order effect of course, is that female soldiers in the war zone – even those playing by the rules – will have diminished access to specialized care.

And all of this attached to a wholly unrelated piece of legislation, slipped in the back “all for the best.”

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Navy, Politics and Culture

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