Damage Control: Unintended Pregnancy in the United States Military


  • Kathryn L. Ponder,

    1. 1Graduate of the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, RI, where she completed a scholarly concentration program in Women's Reproductive Health, Freedom and Rights.
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  • Melissa Nothnagle

    1. Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, RI.
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Women's access to reproductive health care is an ongoing source of conflict in U.S. politics; however, women in the military are often overlooked in these debates. Reproductive health care, including family planning, is a fundamental component of health care for women. Unintended pregnancy carries substantial health risks and financial costs, particularly for servicewomen. Compared with their civilian counterparts, women in the military experience greater challenges in preventing unwanted pregnancy and have less access to contraceptive services and abortion. Current military policies, federal laws, and health care practices are not always consistent with evidence-based research and patient-centered care. A multidisciplinary effort on the part of military personnel, lawmakers, and health care providers is needed to eliminate these disparities. We discuss recommendations in the following categories: improving contraceptive education and adherence, expanding research, broadening access to the full range of contraceptive options including emergency contraception, and ensuring access to safe abortion.