Appeals Court: Government Can Limit Military Abortion Coverage

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 18, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 18, 2005

San Francisco, CA ( — A federal appeals court says the federal government is within its rights to limit payment of abortions for military personnel to only very rare cases if an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. A woman who had an abortion where her unborn child had physical disabilities did not qualify for coverage, the court ruled.

The three judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a Washington state woman should not have been paid for the abortion.

"Abortions performed for suspected or confirmed fetal abnormality … do not fall within the exceptions permitted within the language of the statute and are not authorized for payment," the court wrote.

In their unanimous decision, the judges said they were not evaluating the constitutionality of Congressional legislation that has limited payment of abortions under health care plans for members of the military.

Still, Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote that lawmakers legitimately denied the coverage because of the federal government’s "interest in potential life."

The appeals court judges also cited a 1980 Supreme Court decision upholding Medicaid legislation that restricted taxpayer funding of abortion to the same limited circumstances.

The unnamed woman had an abortion five months into her pregnancy and doctors said her unborn child had a fatal condition, anencephaly, that will take the baby’s life within two months of birth.

After the military denied coverage, the woman sued and a federal district court judge ruled she should have been paid. The federal government paid for the abortion, but appealed the ruling and wants the $3,000 back.

On appeal, the Bush administration said refusing to pay for abortions "furthers the government’s interest in protecting human life in general and promoting respect for life."

Lisa Stone, executive director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center, which represented the woman, told the Associated Press she is deciding whether or not to ask the full appeals court to hear the case or to appeal it to the Supreme Court.

Army Sgt. Pauline Keehn, who writes frequently on women in the military, says she supports the abortion ban. She first entered the military in 1971 before the abortion ban was instituted.
"[As] I saw the complications it caused … I was glad to see the restrictions placed on abortions," Keehn told Newsday.

She added that lifting the abortion ban would require the military to keep doctors trained in performing abortions on staff — something that’s not needed and takes funds away from other important priorities in treating military personnel.