Congress typically spends a lot of time fighting about birth control. This makes it all the more surprising that both Republicans and Democrats are supporting legislation to increase access to contraceptives among women in the military. Robert Pear at the New York Times has the details:
The annual defense policy bill, passed on Friday by the House, says military clinics and hospitals must be able to dispense any method of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Women have complained that they are sometimes unable to obtain contraceptives prescribed by their doctors, especially when they are deployed overseas.
The House bill also says women should, whenever possible, have access to "a sufficient supply" that will last for their entire deployment. Women who are overseas for long periods sometimes report that they have difficulty refilling prescriptions because military clinics run out of specific contraceptives and resupply shipments can be slow to arrive.
The House has passed a bill containing this language, while a similar version is still making its way through the Senate.
Servicewomen tend to have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy than the civilian population. One 2012 report found that more than 10 percent of women in the military said they'd had an unintended pregnancy in the past year. The Center for American Progress published a separate report in 2014 detailing the obstacles that military women face in accessing birth control.
"A survey of servicewomen’s experiences accessing contraception during deployment found that one-third of servicewomen could not obtain the method of birth control they wanted before deployment for a variety of reasons, including short notice of their deployment," it found. "Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that they did not speak to a provider about contraceptive options prior to deployment, and 41 percent found that their prescriptions were difficult to refill once they were deployed."
The congressional proposal would go beyond requiring military hospitals to offer birth control — it would also provide access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives like intra-uterine devices and birth control implants. These types of birth control, which are inserted by a doctor and last for years, are better at preventing pregnancy because they leave no space for human error. Pills that have to be taken every day — and, in this case, by women stationed abroad — could be less effective.