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Federal Court Rules US Navy Must Pay for Abortion

In a ruling issued last week, US District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ordered the US Navy to fund an abortion for a Navy spouse carrying an anencephalic fetus. The woman, now 20 weeks pregnant, learned three weeks ago that the fetus—developing without forebrain, cerebellum, or skull—would face imminent death. The US Navy and TRICARE Management Activity, its health contractor in Seattle, refused to terminate the pregnancy; however, the couple could not afford an abortion elsewhere.

The Northwest Women’s Law Center which represented the couple in Jane Doe v. United States, et al., alleged that the Navy violated the US Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantee, which requires that the law apply equally to people who are "similarly situated." In a related case last May, Britell v. United States, a US district court ruled that the government had to pay for the abortion of an anencephalic fetus carried by an Air National Guard officer’s wife. The judge in that case chastised the government for its regulation denying such abortion coverage and forcing women in similar circumstances "to suffer carrying their anencephalic fetuses until they are born to a certain death. This rationale is no rationale at all. It is irrational, and worse yet, it is cruel."

Media Resources: NOW 8/14/02; Northwest Women’s Law Center release 8/9/02; ACLU 2/9/96; Seattle Times 8/13/02



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