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House Approves Defense Authorization Bill

On May 9, the House approved the FY2003 defense authorization bill (H.R. 4546) by a vote of 359-58. H.R. 4546 would authorize $383.4 billion in military spending for FY2003.

During the floor debate, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) offered an amendment that would have allowed U.S. servicewomen who are stationed abroad to use their own funds for abortion services at U.S. military bases overseas. Under current law, the Department of Defense (DoD) covers abortions in domestic and military facilities only in cases where the life of the pregnant woman is endangered. In cases of rape and incest, women must prove that they have been the victim of rape or incest. If they can prove this, then they may obtain abortion services with their own funds. Servicewomen who are seeking abortion services under other circumstances must pay for those services at a non-military facility.

The amendment was narrowed to allow women to obtain privately funded abortions at overseas facilities only. Supporters of the amendment argued that women serving abroad do not have timely access to non-military care. Opponents countered that since military facilities are funded by U.S. taxpayers, federal funds would therefore be used for abortions. The amendment was defeated, 215-202.

H.R. 4546 would require DoD to prepare an annual report on the status of women in the armed forces. This report would include an analysis of access to health care, positions open, assignment policies, joint spouse assignments, deployment availability rates, promotion and retention rates, assignments in nontraditional fields, assignments to command positions, selection for service schools and sexual harassment in the military.

The bill also would require the DoD to report whether it has met its annual goal of awarding procurement contracts to small businesses owned or controlled by women from FY1998 through FY 2002. Additionally, H.R. 4546 would allocate $278.74 million for the DoD to use in carrying out health care programs, projects, and activities. The bill also would call for improvements in the administration of TRICARE, the military’s health care system.

H.R. 4546 would authorize $678.4 million in FY2003 for the construction and improvement of military family housing units, $17.7 million more than the President’s request. Also, $17.6 million would be allocated for child development centers, $6.9 million more than the President’s request. The funding would enable the operation of an additional four centers.

On May 9, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved, 17-8, their version of FY2003 defense authorization bill (S. 2225). At press time, no details were available.

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