The Pentagon is implementing measures to protect the rights of military service members and access to abortions, regardless of the state they are stationed in, according to a statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The measures aim to ensure the privacy of military service members’ medical information, provide travel and transportation allowances to service members or their family members if they must travel to another state for care, and protect military medical providers who perform covered abortions. charged with civil or criminal charges, the statement said.
While much of the policy is still being written, “implementation of the guidance should be completed by the end of the year,” a defense official said.
Although the Pentagon’s announcement comes three weeks before the national midterm elections, defense officials said the announcement was not related to them. Democratic candidates across the country have emphasized abortion rights in the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. After the Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which removed the federal right to abortion.
After the Dobbs ruling, more than a dozen states have enacted abortion bans.
“The Secretary and the Department have taken a thoughtful and deliberate approach to developing the actions we’ve outlined,” a defense official said. “In his statement following Dobbs, the Secretary stated that the Department is closely reviewing this decision and evaluating our policies to ensure that we continue to provide access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law.”
Undersecretary of Defense and Personnel Protection Gil Cisneros sent a statement in late June after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, saying, “The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are complex and must be evaluated in light of various state laws.” The department will “issue additional guidance as appropriate.” Defense officials said this announcement was a follow-up to that memo.
Federal funding can be used to perform abortions, also referred to as covered abortions, if there is rape, incest, or a risk to the mother’s life. Therefore, federally funded military medical facilities can perform covered abortions even in states with restrictive abortion laws.
There has been concern among military medical providers that they could face criminal or civil complaints if they continue to perform covered abortions in states that restrict abortions, defense officials said. That’s why the Pentagon is creating policies to protect military health care providers if civil or criminal complaints are filed against them.
“The reason we are doing this is to reassure our suppliers,” a defense official said. “The bottom line is, we think if it’s done under federal jurisdiction, there won’t be a problem. But frankly, with the press and all the things that are out there, there’s kind of an underlying concern about the potential.”
If a criminal complaint is filed against a military medical provider, it would be turned over to the Justice Department and the Defense Department would “work with them to coordinate the response,” an official said.
The department is also developing policies to provide “travel and transportation allowances” to service members or their families who must travel to another state for an abortion, a defense official said. These actions are “fully consistent with federal law,” the official added. The Pentagon will not cover the cost of non-covered abortion services, the official said.
Because military service members are required to move frequently for their military posts, Austin emphasized that he does not believe that military service requirements should prevent members from accessing reproductive health care.
“The practical implications of the recent changes are that significant numbers of service members and their families may be forced to travel longer distances, take more time off work and pay more out-of-pocket costs for reproductive health care,” Austin said. note. “In my view, these effects constitute unusual, extraordinary, hardship or emergency situations for Service members and their dependents and will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain and maintain a highly qualified force.”
Defense officials stressed that there is evidence “quantitatively and qualitatively” suggesting that the Dobbs decision and restrictive abortion policies in some states where military service members may be located will affect military retention and recruitment.
“We have information quantitatively and qualitatively, with thoughts about military service, with thoughts about continuing to serve once, considering the choices of the family, which indicates that there is a concern about being located in a place where they do not have access to this information or access to these services,” said one of the officials.
The department is also developing a “uniform” policy that “allows for appropriate administrative leave consistent with federal uncovered law,” the statement said.
“We’re trying to provide a range of options, from taking personal leave, to administrative leave, and then travel assistance, so they can decide how best to address the decision for their own needs and interests,” a defense official said.
Austin stressed that these policies are being developed to ensure the “health and well-being” of service members.
“There is no higher priority than taking care of our people and ensuring their health and well-being. The Department of Defense will continue to closely evaluate our policies to ensure that we continue to provide optimal access to reproductive health care, consistent with federal law and as appropriate,” Austin said in the statement.