Improving the Health and Readiness of Military Women

Catherine T. Witkop*, Elizabeth A. Kostas-Polston, Linda C. Degutis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Why the Defense Health Horizons Did This Study: Women comprise approximately one-fifth of the total force in the U.S. Military. Gynecologic and reproductive health issues not only affect the health and wellness of individual servicewomen but may also impact the mission of the DoD. Unintended pregnancies can result in adverse maternal and infant outcomes and can negatively impact the careers of military women and mission readiness. Gynecologic conditions such as abnormal uterine bleeding, fibroids, and endometriosis can also limit women's optimal health and performance, and a significant proportion of military women have indicated their desire to manage and/or suppress menstrual cycles, especially when deployed. Access to the full range of contraceptive methods is an important strategy to allow women to achieve their reproductive goals and address other health concerns. This report reviews rates of unintended pregnancy and contraceptive utilization among servicewomen and examines factors that influence these measures of health. What Defense Health Horizons Found: Overall rates of unintended pregnancy are higher among servicewomen than the general population and rates of contraceptive use among servicewomen are lower than the general population. Congress mandates that servicewomen have access to contraceptive options, but the DoD has not established target measures for contraceptive access and use, unlike that present for the civilian population. What Defense Health Horizons Recommends: Four potential courses of action are proposed to improve the health and readiness of military women. Recommendation 1: The Military Health System (MHS) should develop and maintain reliable sources of data to assess the gynecologic health of servicewomen, including rates of unintended pregnancy. Recommendation 2: When menstrual suppression, treatment for a medical condition, or contraception is desired, servicewomen should have ready access to the information they need to select the option that is best suited for their personal preferences and situation. Recommendation 3: In order to ensure that servicewomen have optimal access to the full range of contraceptive methods, the MHS should determine true access at all their facilities and identify actions to address any barriers. Recommendation 4: The MHS should establish service delivery targets for use of women's preventive health services, particularly contraception, to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-14
Number of pages7
JournalMilitary Medicine
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


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