NO MONEY from the federal government is available to pay for abortions, period. Not for the poor in this country. Not for those in other countries receiving American foreign aid. Not for government workers whose health insurance policies specifically exclude the procedure or members of the military and their dependents, whose medical coverage is also limited. But if you are living in the United States and you can pay for the procedure that your health insurance doesn't cover, at least you have options. You can turn to a private doctor, clinic or hospital, pay a few hundred dollars and obtain a safe and legal abortion.
Americans serving the country abroad do not necessarily have the same option. In some countries where large contingents of service families are stationed -- Panama and the Philippines, for example -- abortion is illegal except to save the life of a mother. In other places, medical care is substandard, blood is not tested for AIDS infection and unsterilized needles are reused because funds are not available to replace them. Because of these concerns, military hospitals did perform abortions on a private-payment basis for military personnel and their families. This policy was changed by administrative decision in October 1988, and since that time only those abortions necessary to save the life of a mother have been performed in military facilities.
Sens. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio) tried to change that policy last Friday. They offered an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would reinstate the pre-1988 policy so that Americans serving abroad would have the same access to a full range of medical services as those stationed at home. That seems to us a simple and fair proposition that does not interfere with existing prohibitions on the use of federal funds for abortion. Every procedure performed in a military hospital would be paid for entirely with private funds. The Wirth-Glenn amendment was filibustered and the 58-to-41 cloture vote fell short of the required 60. The issue is not dead, however, for Reps. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) and Ron Machtley (R-R.I.) intend to bring it up when the House bill reaches the floor. First, they will have to overcome a hurdle in the Rules Committee, but that won't happen until September.
The proposal does not address the underlying constitutional right to abortion or even the matter of government funding. It is only designed to protect the rights and the health of American personnel who have been assigned outside this country. They are entitled to equal treatment, and Congress should see that they get it.