Military leaders say that General Order 1, which limits alcohol consumption and cohabitation for troops deployed to war zones, reinforces good order and discipline. Advocates and troops say it’s an antiquated “ban on sex” — and may in reality be harming women’s health.
Women troops said in some cases that their doctors cited this controversial order to deny them access to birth control while deployed, a fact that was revealed in a survey conducted by the Service Women’s Action Network advocacy group.
In their survey of nearly 800 women serving or who have served in the US military, SWAN found that 26% of active-duty women do not have access to birth control while deployed. That number jumps even higher for other communities: 41% of women veterans reported limited access during their time in uniform.
While several reasons were provided to account for these numbers, including the inability to refill prescriptions far enough in advance, advocates were shocked to find that a limitation on sexual activity would be used to deny access to birth control.
A U.S. Army Pvt. pulls her way to the top of the slide to victory obstacle during the confidence course phase of basic combat training at Fort Jackson.
(U.S. Army photo)
“Isn’t that ridiculous,” Ellen Haring, chief executive of SWAN, told Business Insider. “It astounds me that people would be denied for that reason.”
It’s astounding, Haring said, because birth control is not just used as a contraceptive. One of the survey’s respondents said she was dismayed when she could not get enough refills to last through her deployments because she primarily used birth control to regulate, and even skip, her menstrual cycle.
Along with safely skipping a period, Planned Parenthood lists a range of medical benefits to using birth control — from reduction of acne to prevention of endometrial or ovarian cancers.
These benefits are not being ignored by the Department of Defense, which said it would be a violation of service members’ privacy if their commander denied them access to birth control.
“Birth control … is not just indicated for pregnancy prevention, it is also indicated for menstrual regulation, including menstrual suppression,” Jessica Maxwell, spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said in an emailed statement to Business Insider.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Twila Stone readies her weapon during a Memorial Day ceremony.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jonathan Stefanko)
It would be a privacy violation for a commander to deny birth control, Maxwell wrote, because taking birth control would not limit a woman’s ability to perform her duties. But she could not publicly comment whether a doctor’s refusal to prescribe the medication would trigger a violation of any military regulation or whether the Pentagon was investigating any reports of this occurring.
Her statement emphasized that emergency contraception, which can be obtained over-the-counter, is readily available even for service members in deployed locations.
But emergency contraceptives are singular in their purpose; these remedies do not satisfy the host of alternate uses filled by prescription birth control.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.