The military says it will, among other things, cover travel expenses for military personnel in states with abortion bans.
The Pentagon has announced new support for military members requesting abortions, including travel expenses for those based in parts of the United States where the procedure is now banned.
Thursday’s order (PDF) includes privacy provisions intended to protect members of the US military from repercussions related to abortion-related decisions and establishes guidelines so that local commanders cannot influence whether military members have access to medical care.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the measures would be completed before the end of the year.
“I commit that the Department will take all appropriate actions, within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, as expeditiously as possible to ensure that our service members and their families have access to reproductive health care and that our health care providers can operate effectively.” Austin said in the memorandum.
The SCOTUS ruling on reproductive health has real implications for force readiness, recruitment and retention. We have heard concerns from many of our employees about the insecurity they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services. pic.twitter.com/Ed1Dte3ciD
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) October 20, 2022
The order is the federal government’s latest step to uphold abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade ruling in June, ending constitutional abortion rights in the country.
That decision paved the way for a wave of new abortion restrictions and outright bans in more than a dozen US states.
The Democratic Party has made support for abortion rights a central part of its appeal to voters ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election, promising to secure and restore access to the process if Democrats win a sizable majority in Congress.
Also this week, President Joe Biden said he would move a bill in Congress to codify federal abortion laws if Democrats win a majority.
“Here is the promise I make to you and to the American people,” Biden said Tuesday. “The first bill I will submit to Congress is the Roe v Wade codification.”
The reversal of Roe v Wade expanded the discretion of US states to create their own abortion laws and restrictions. This has led to a confusing set of rules as Republican-led states have rolled back abortion rights while Democratic-led ones have tried to protect it.
Many US soldiers had expressed concerns after the Supreme Court’s decision in June, particularly those in states that have restricted or banned the procedure.
Austin noted that retention concerns are a reason for the new policy.
After Roe’s ouster, the Pentagon announced it would continue to grant medical leave for abortions to military personnel.
The new memorandum builds on that policy by helping to cover travel expenses, shielding such decisions from the authority of local commanders, and requiring military bases to publicly release information about reproductive health services.
It also extends the period that a service member must report a pregnancy to commanders up to 20 weeks.
Under federal law, the Pentagon health care system is not allowed to perform abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
That law remains intact, and federal funding would only cover travel expenses and not the cost of the abortion even outside of those limited circumstances.