Jan 25 Just over ten percent of women in the
military said in 2008 that they'd had an unintended pregnancy in
the previous year - a figure significantly higher than rates in
the general public, according to a U.S. study.
The findings, which appeared in the journal Obstetrics &
Gynecology, come just as the Pentagon has said it will lift the
ban on women in front-line combat jobs starting in 2016.
"Clearly unintended pregnancy is an important public health
problem for everyone," said Daniel Grossman from the University
of California, San Franciso, who worked on the study.
"It seems particularly important for the military population
because obviously it can disrupt a woman's career."
The Pentagon could not provide a comment by deadline.
Access to birth control can be a problem for troops deployed
for long periods of time, and if women do become pregnant,
abortion is legally restricted on U.S. military bases. Women who
get pregnant while overseas must be evacuated.
Grossman's results are based on surveys of more than 7,000
active-duty women, between 18 and 44 years old, conducted in
2008, the last such available survey.
About 800 women said they'd had an unintended pregnancy in
the previous year, including a similar proportion of deployed
and non-deployed women.
In total, about 900 women had been unable to deploy in the
previous year due to a pregnancy, whether intentional or not.
The rate of unintended pregnancy - 105 for each 1,000 women
- was a small increase over the rate in 2005 of 97 per 1,000
servicewomen. That figure is also 50 percent higher than rates
of unintended pregnancy among similarly aged women in the
general, non-military public.
"It does definitely have implications for troop readiness,
ability to deploy (and) troops in combat missions if they are
potentially at high risk for unintended pregnancy and pregnant
women can't be deployed," said Vinita Goyal, who has studied
unintended pregnancy in female veterans at Warren Alpert Medical
School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Grossman said confusion and concern over military policies
on sexual activity may affect women's access to contraception.
Consensual sex among members of the same rank is legal, But
women may be afraid to ask for condoms, for example, for fear
people will think they are violating policy, said Goyal, who was
not involved in the study.
Sexual assault in the military may be another contributor to
high rates of unintended pregnancy, the researchers noted.
"There are studies showing anywhere between 20 and 40
percent of servicewomen (experience) rape or attempted rape
during their military career, and the vast majority don't report
it," said Grossman, who is also the vice president for research
at Ibis Reproductive Health.
According to data from the Department of Defense, there were
between two and three sexual assaults for every 1,000 active
duty soldiers, man and women, reported in 2011.
Earlier this month, laws were amended to allow victims of
rape or incest to get abortions at military bases, but
otherwise, except when the mother's life is in danger, abortion
on bases is illegal.
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)