Online Program

Servicewomen's perceptions of and experiences with pregnancy and abortion during deployment in the United States military: A qualitative study

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 : 9:30 a.m. - 9:45 a.m.

Kate Grindlay, MSPH, Ibis Reproductive Health, Cambridge, MA
Bridgit Burns, MPH, Ibis Reproductive Health, Cambridge, MA
Ruth Manski, BA, Ibis Reproductive Health, Cambridge, MA
Kelsey Holt, MA, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Liza Fuentes, MPH, Ibis Reproductive Health, Oakland, CA
10.5% of active duty women age 18-44 in the US military report having experienced an unintended pregnancy in the prior year. However, little is known about servicewomen's perceptions of and experiences with pregnancy, especially during deployment.

From May 2011-January 2012, we conducted phone interviews with current and former U.S. military women on reproductive health during deployment, including their experiences with and perceptions of pregnancy. Data were analyzed qualitatively.

Twenty-two women completed in-depth interviews. Two participants personally experienced an unintended pregnancy and subsequent abortion during deployment. Both reported receiving support from their chain of command and medical staff throughout the process; however, one woman received formal reprimand from a battalion commander who attempted to bar her from re-enlistment for the pregnancy. Most respondents knew someone who experienced a pregnancy during deployment, for which they perceived negative repercussions including discrimination and social isolation and in some cases loss of rank, pay, or other career impacts. Participants noted that consequences may depend on the woman's chain of command, her marital status and rank, whether the conception occurred during deployment, and her year and place of service. The majority were unaware of the abortion policy for military personnel and expressed mixed opinions upon learning about it, ranging from broad disagreement with abortion, to feeling there is inequality between military and civilian women's access to abortion care.

US servicewomen's experiences with pregnancy during deployment are perceived to vary by a number of factors, including individuals in command. Differing consequences and discretionary policies should be addressed.

Learning Areas:

Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe US military women’s experiences and perceptions related to unintended pregnancy and abortion during deployment. Discuss the study’s relevance to current military policy.

Keyword(s): Abortion, Pregnancy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been a co-investigator on multiple studies focusing on the reproductive health needs and experiences of women in the US military.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.