Despite Order, No Abortions At U.S. Military Hospitals in Europe
BERLIN (AP) _ Six months after President Clinton lifted a ban on abortions at U.S. military hospitals, not one has been performed at an American service hospital or clinic in Europe.
Indeed, according to the Pentagon, it appears there have been no abortions at any military base abroad.
Army officials in Europe say they are looking for a suitable physician. But key officers are strongly against abortion, and no such physician has been hired.
Military women who inquire about abortions are told they are not available from the military and are referred to outside clinics. Germany’s equivalent of Planned Parenthood estimates about 1,500 American women a year - most of them servicewomen and spouses - are getting abortions from German doctors.
U.S. officials said last month that the 46 obstetrician-gynecologists working at Army, Navy and Air Force hospitals in Europe object to abortion on moral or ethical grounds. They said regulations allow for such objections, and that commanders will not compel anyone to perform abortions.
The 46 gynecologists are active-duty servicemen, however. A small number of civilian gynecologists work for the military, and at least one told The Associated Press she would be willing to perform abortions. But patients who want abortions are still being turned away.
The Army, which accounts for 62 percent of the 168,000 U.S. troops in Europe, announced in March that it was seeking a civilian who could perform abortions at one of its six hospitals in Germany.
But Army officials said they’d had no success, largely because they didn’t expect many women to seek abortions at their hospitals and thus would not be able to offer an outside doctor much money.
Since U.S. government funds may still not be used for abortions, soldiers would have to pay more than $400 for the procedure, if it were available.
The doctor who said she is willing to perform abortions is Dr. Anke Joachim, who has worked at the Army’s Berlin hospital for nine months.
″I think it’s the right of every woman to have an abortion,″ she said. She said she believes no woman who wants an abortion should be denied one, as long as the pregnancy is in the first trimester.
Asked why Joachim could not be asked to perform abortions, Army spokeswoman Barbara Slifer noted with irritation that Joachim is from the former East Germany, where abortion was available on demand and doctors were ″ordered″ to perform it.
″There are procedures she is still not allowed to perform without supervision,″ Slifer said by telephone from Heidelberg.
Joachim said she knew of at least one other civilian obstetrician employed by the Army who is willing to perform abortions. He could not, however, be located for comment.
The Berlin hospital’s chief of obstetrics, Lt. Col. Noel Habib, strongly opposes abortion, say co-workers, including the hospital’s deputy commander, Lt. Col. James Whitmire.
Habib, approached at the Berlin hospital, refused to be interviewed.
So did doctors at the Army’s Frankfurt hospital.
″It seems they feel that as long as there is a way that these people can receive a safe abortion, they feel that they shouldn’t have to do it,″ said Dr. Michelle Maccario, the hospital’s deputy for clinical services.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Doug Hart said by telephone Friday that he was not aware of any abortions being performed at U.S. military hospitals abroad since Clinton lifted the ban, which had been in effect since 1988.
A maternity nurse in the Berlin hospital, Capt. Yuvette Calhoun, said the pressures of military life too often make abortion the preferred solution to an unplanned pregnancy.
″They make it very hard for military people who are women and who are single to have a baby. The military comes first,″ said Calhoun, of Rochester, N.Y.
While there is no prohibition against being a single mother in the military, soldiers say peer pressure and financial demands make it extremely difficult and rare. A private earns $900 dollars a month.
A social worker at the Frankfurt hospital, Capt. Muriel Mosley, said she counsels about two women a month who are considering abortion and most ″do typically terminate the pregnancy.″
She was not surprised by the estimate by Pro Familia, Germany’s Planned Parenthood-like organization, that most of the 1,500 Americans it performs abortion on each year are military women. She said many Army women would not consult her when considering abortion because they ″don’t want the military to know.″