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Senate Approves FY2003 Defense Authorization Bill

On June 27, the Senate passed its FY2003 defense authorization bill (S. 2514), by a vote of 97-2. S. 2514 would authorize $393 billion in military spending for FY2003.

The Senate adopted, 52-40, an amendment offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that would allow 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 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 victims of rape or incest; 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 would allow women to obtain privately funded abortions at overseas facilities only. Supporters of the amendment argue that women serving abroad do not have timely access to non-military care. Opponents counter that since military facilities are funded by U.S. taxpayers, federal funds would therefore be used for abortions. The House defeated a similar amendment, 215-202, on May 9 (see The Source, 5/10/02).

Also adopted, 93-0, was an amendment offered by Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) that would bar American military commanders from requiring U.S. servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the traditional abaya over their uniform or civilian clothes. The bill also would prohibit the Pentagon from purchasing abayas for regular use. The House approved a similar amendment, by voice vote, on May 14 (see The Source, 5/17/02).

Another amendment, offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and approved by voice vote, would authorize the transfer of a DF-9E Panther aircraft to the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots Museum.

The committee report accompanying S. 2514 included a provision that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to “enter into contracts for rebates with producers of food products for the exclusive right to provide food in Navy Exchange Markets as supplemental food for the Women, Infants, and Children Overseas Program.” Currently, the Secretary has this authority for products sold in commissary stores. However, the provision would increase the maximum period of these exclusive rights contracts from one year to three years. S. 2514 also would call for improvements in the administration of TRICARE, the military’s health care system.

In addition, the committee report contains a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to conduct two separate biennial surveys “to identify and assess racial, ethnic, and gender issues and discrimination among members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty and the extent (if any) of hate group activity among such members.” The provision would require a survey every two years, with a survey on racial and ethnic issues alternating with a survey on gender issues.

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