The Senate unanimously passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2013 on Tuesday. The giant bill includes four provisions that, if included in the final version of the law, could help women in the military. It's not clear whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will approve any of these measures, but here they are:
- Military women who are raped would be able to use their government health benefits to get an abortion. The Hyde Amendment blocks the use of government funds—including government-funded healthcare—for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother is at risk. But under the more strict Pentagon policy, women in the military are blocked from using their health benefits to pay for abortion even if they become pregnant from rape. To correct this disparity, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) authored a measure in the NDAA that would increase access to abortion care for military women.
- The military would be forced to improve how it handles reports of sexual assaults. This provision, from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), requires the military to keep restricted reports of sexual assaults on file for 50 years, so that veterans can access forensic examination records in order to file disability claims and criminal charges against their rapist (if the statute of limitations has not run out). It also requires the Department of Defense to expand its annual report on rape in the military and to set new policies on how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment cases.
- Convicted sex offenders would be discharged. According to the DOD's own statistics, 36 percent of convicted sex offenders have been allowed to remain in the military. Right now, only the Navy requires convicted sex offenders to go through the discharge process. This measure, from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, would expand the Navy's policy to all branches of the armed forces.
- It would force the DOD to review its policy of excluding women from combat roles. This measure, also from Gillibrand, requires the Pentagon to come up with a plan for lifting its current policy blocking women from serving in combat roles, a policy that is also the subject of a recent lawsuit. The measure doesn't set a hard deadline for changing the rules, but does require the agency to issue a report on the matter within a year.