Georgia Military Community Faces “Barriers” to Reproductive Care Under Kemp’s Ban

September 15, 2022

Access to Abortion is “Practically Impossible” for Military Servicemembers After Extreme Ban Came Into Effect

A new report from Savannah Morning News is shining a light on the issue of reproductive health care access for military servicemembers, for whom access to abortion care is “practically impossible” under Gov. Brian Kemp’s extreme ban. The piece notes how Georgia is home to one of the largest military and veteran communities in the country and under one of the most restrictive abortion laws, they are facing a dangerous combination for those seeking an abortion.

With women making up 1 in 5 military servicemembers, many of whom live in states where abortion is now illegal or severely restricted, Roe v. Wade’s fall and extreme state abortion bans like Georgia’s are severaly restricitng access. Lack of access to reproductive care has disproportionately impacted the military and veteran community, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In the report, Tenee Baker, a U.S. Army veteran, shared her story of terminating a pregnancy, noting the roadblocks and difficulty of access to the procedure. Even while living in a state that had codified abortion access before the Roe v. Wade ruling, she felt “confused and violated.” The veteran said she shudders to think what will happen to other servicemembers now that abortion is no longer federally protected and now that in Georgia, abortion is illegal before many women even realize they’re pregnant. “A government entity should never tell me what to do with my body,” Baker said.

Servicemembers must travel off base to access abortion, and pay for travel and procedure costs, and with federal protections gone, more servicemembers than ever are beholden to the restrictive state lawswhere they’re stationed. 

More from Savannah Morning News: Georgia’s Military Community Pleads for Better Abortion Access, Barriers too High to Cross

  • Georgia is home to one of the largest military and veteran communities in the U.S. and now has one of the most restrictive abortion laws. The combination is dangerous for those seeking an abortion.
  • When Tenee Baker, an U.S. Army veteran, heard that the Supreme Court had overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, her heart sank. It’s not that she didn’t anticipate the ruling, she said, but seeing it happen confirmed her fears: those who get pregnant will face an undue burden when seeking an abortion.
  • Baker endured just such an experience 15 years ago as an active service member. She still thinks about what she considers an injustice. While she was able to get an abortion then, under today’s circumstances in the state of Georgia, she might not.
  • In her Savannah home, Baker recounts her distressing abortion experience as a soldier at the Fort Lewis-McChord base in Washington, a state where abortion is legal up to fetal viability. Yet, her Army superiors, who ultimately had to approve her leave, tried to dissuade her. They even sent her to the Army chaplain, Baker said, and everybody in her unit knew about her decision. 
  • “When none of that worked, I was escorted by non-commissioned officers off post to the abortion clinic,” said Baker, pointing out she wasn’t aware of any policy requiring such an escort.
  • She shudders to think what will happen to other military members now that abortion protections are struck from federal law. That concern extends to Georgia, where the gestational limit is now six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. 
  • While the U.S. military doesn’t prohibit abortions, federal legislation prevents the military’s health care system from providing funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment (the Veterans Health Administration doesn’t cover abortions under any circumstance). Even under those special circumstances, few Army base medical facilities provide abortion services on post, according to Lory Manning, SWAN‘s Director of Government Operations. 
  • Abortion seekers who don’t fall under those categories must travel off base and pay for their own travel and procedure. Institutional barriers or the personal beliefs of superiors could hinder requests for leave, as in Baker’s case. And, now, with federal protections further eroded, more servicemembers than ever are beholden to the restrictive laws of the state where they’re stationed. 
  • The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade are far-reaching. Women make up 1 in 5 servicemembers in the U.S. military, many of whom live in states where abortion is now illegal or severely restricted. That number doesn’t include the thousands of nonbinary and transgender individuals who can become pregnant as well.
  • “Abortion is health care. It’s a major impact on readiness if people cannot access that healthcare,” said Janessa Goldbeck, CEO of the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation. “Most people who serve in the military are under the age of 25 and these folks have the least power, least agency over their lives and sometimes come from the most vulnerable communities. They live in fear of accessing necessary medical care and this is a moral failure on our part.”
  • Baker views her abortion experience from 15 years ago as an example of the stigma persisting within the military community when it comes to reproductive health. “When people say they support the veterans, it’s almost always geared towards a male veteran,” Baker said. “I want people to look at us as also being human.”
  • About 10 days after Baker’s procedure, she deployed to Kuwait with barely any time to process the mental stress she endured from both her superiors as well as the abortion itself. To focus on her mission, Baker said she “had to put it in the back of (her) head.” When talking with her Veterans Affairs counselor, she believes that moment contributed to her PTSD. 
  • “That should’ve never happened,” said Baker. “A government entity should never tell me what to do with my body.”
  • One also has to consider the bureaucratic process that could take weeks before obtaining leave, she further extrapolates. And if a servicemember runs into unexpected delays and difficulties in reaching the abortion facility, they risk facing serious disciplinary consequences.
  • Also underlying the challenges are rising costs: The longer someone has to travel and the farther along the pregnancy is, the more money that’s going to come out of pocket. 
  • In Georgia, state law mandates counseling and then a 24-hour wait period before accessing abortion care. Most abortion clinics are concentrated in the metro Atlanta area. For those stationed at Fort Stewart in Hinesville or Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, the closest clinic is Savannah’s Planned Parenthood center. The only surgical abortion provider in Savannah closed in the wake of the Roe v. Wade overturn. 
  •  Emily C., a military spouse, is familiar with the barriers to seeking an abortion. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Emily was working with Urge, a reproductive justice nonprofit based in Georgia. In one of her recent work meetings, she heard some clinics in the Southeast had wait times of as long as a month. 
  • Emily comes from a military family and worries about one of her younger sisters who is also in the Air Force. “She would be in that situation of having to ask for leave and I’m just worried. Access is practically impossible,” said Emily. 


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