Feb. 5, 2010— -- Female soldiers will now have access to the morning after pill at military bases worldwide.
The Pentagon announced the ruling this week that the Department of Defense would provide the soldiers with Plan B, otherwise known as the morning after pill.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that the decision came after a recommendation of an independent panel of doctors and pharmacists in November.
Meeting minutes show the Department of Defense's Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee voted for the allowance 13-2.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised the Pentagon and the shift from the resistance of the Bush administration to provide emergency contraception when the issue was raised in 2002.
Women serving overseas, she said in a statement posted on NARAL's Web site, deserve the same rights to medical care provided to women on U.S. soil.
"I firmly believe that this decision marks an end to the political intrusion of the previous administration that blocked military women from having this guaranteed access," she said. "It's a tragedy that women in uniform have been denied such basic health care."
Anti-abortion activities have long denounced the use of Plan B, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, likening the pill's heavy doses of hormones to a surgical abortion.
Proponents of the drug said it does not cause an abortion, but rather significantly decreases the woman's chances of becoming pregnant if taken shortly after sex.
The Pentagon's decision comes less than two months after an Army general in Iraq made headlines when he included pregnancy as a punishable offense for the women in his command and the men who got them pregnant.
Emergency Contraception Comes Two Months After Pregnancy Controversy
Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo said in December that his policy, part of a larger general order that listed court-martial as a possible punishment for any violations, was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers go home and leave behind a weaker unit.
Cucolo had said at the time that women who became pregnant overseas would not have military access to emergency contraception or abortions to terminate any unwanted pregnancies.
"Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status -- or contributes to doing that to another -- is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos, 'I will always place the mission first,'" he said in December.
Cucolo's order set off a firestorm of criticism, including condemnation by four Democratic senators who wrote a letter calling for the order to be overturned.
Cucolo's order was eventually rescinded by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. Army commander in Iraq, when drafted a broad new policy for the U.S. forces in Iraq that did not include the pregnancy provision.
Seven soldiers -- four women and three men -- were punished for violating Cucolo's order in the interim. All received letters of reprimand.