The Pentagon will provide travel funds and support to troops and their dependents who seek abortions but are based in states where they are now illegal, according to a new department policy released Thursday. The military will also increase privacy protections for those seeking care.
The order issued by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outlines the rights and protections service members and their dependents will enjoy regardless of where they live, which was a major concern for the troops after the Court supreme overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Access to abortion has become a central issue in the midterm elections. President Joe Biden promised this week that the first bill he sends to Capitol Hill next year will be the one to enshrine abortion protections in law, if Democrats control enough seats in Congress to vote for him. ‘adopt.
The High Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson removed constitutional abortion protections for women and left it up to states to determine whether abortions are legal within their borders. In the months that followed, abortion was banned or heavily restricted in more than a dozen states.
The new policy establishes guidelines so that local commanders are not allowed to influence service members’ access to care or create a culture in which service members or their dependents do not come forward for fear of repercussions. It builds on an initial Pentagon reaction in June, where, days after the Supreme Court ruling, the Pentagon said it would continue to allow medical leave for service members who were required to travel out of state. to have an abortion, but noted that he needed to review the court’s decision and subsequent state laws to see if additional guidance would be needed.
The Pentagon was also concerned that the Dobbs decision would affect recruitment and retention, as service members or potential recruits weighed the risk of being posted to states where abortions are illegal. Many of the Pentagon’s major military bases are located in states like Texas and Florida, where anti-abortion laws are now in place.
The new guidelines also direct every military base to publicly post what reproductive health care support is available to service members and their dependents, extend the time in which a service member must report a pregnancy to commanders to 20 weeks. and to provide additional defense health care protections. providers who provide abortion services.
Under federal law, the Pentagon’s health system can only offer abortions in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. This does not change under the new policy. The funds the military would provide to the military would only cover transportation; they would not pay for abortion services that are not covered by federal law.
Lawyer Natalie Khawam, who represented the family of slain US soldier Vanessa Guillén, whose body was found outside Fort Hood, Texas, said the policy was part of an ongoing Pentagon effort to fight against a military culture that has not been supportive. female service members. Guillén’s death led to sweeping changes in the way sexual harassment and assault are handled in the military.
“When you protect a woman, you protect a family, you protect everyone in her connection. It could be her children, it could be her parents, it could be her spouse or her siblings, and you are definitely protecting the country because it serves the country,” Khawam said.
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.