Amid the military's #MeToo moment, the Pentagon makes major women's health changes

Elizabeth Howe
September 03, 2020 - 12:43 pm
Military Female Reproductive Health

US Air Force

The Department of Defense has been quietly rolling out policies, provisions and initiatives in support of the reproductive health of its female service members this year -- as the military's #MeToo reckoning continues in the aftermath of Spc. Vanessa Guillen's murder. 

The Air Force is currently at the forefront of these efforts. At the end of July, the USAF adjusted its policy on pregnant and postpartum members attending professional military education courses. Previously, pregnant and postpartum airmen required exceptions to policy to attend PME courses for an entire year after giving birth. 

“Empowering women to make a decision about the right time to attend PME, especially during or after pregnancy, is the right thing to do,” Gwendolyn DeFilippi, assistant deputy director of Air Force manpower, personnel and services said of the policy shift. “These type of policy changes provide women flexibility to balance family planning and career progression. They help level the playing field."

The Air Force also just implemented a policy allowing airmen who experience miscarriages the option to delay physical fitness assessments for a certain period of time after miscarrying. Even if an airman was only pregnant for 12 weeks, she has the option to defer her next fitness test for up to 60 days. Those pregnant for 12 to 20 weeks have the option for a 180-day delay, and those pregnant for more than 20 weeks can delay for a year.

And while the Air Force is already implementing new policies, the DoD as a whole is working to address issues relating to women's reproductive health. 

At the beginning of August, the DoD launched a survey focused on the reproductive health of female service members -- for the first time in over 30 years. The survey will "provide information that can shape policy and clinical care in the area of women’s health." Data will include information on behaviors and experiences that can affect military readiness and inform clinicians about women’s gynecologic and obstetrical care needs. 

And Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has rolled pregnancy-based anti-discrimination into his efforts to address all issues of discrimination across the ranks, first announced in July. According to Military.com, more change is coming. The military currently lacks any sort of legal protection for its uniformed personnel against pregnancy-based discrimination while civilian DoD employees are protected by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 -- but not for long. 

While Esper's July initiative against all types of discrimination was sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood ignited what some are calling the military's #MeToo movement. As the DoD faces a reckoning moment against all types of gender-based discrimination, rights and protections for female service member reproductive health look to be getting a boost. 

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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