The effects of the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court “interfere with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force,” according to the Department of Defense, which plans to establish an allowance to pay for service members’ travel expenses to get abortions.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin instructed the DoD to “create travel and transportation allowances” in a letter dated October 20 to ensure that military men and their families could have abortions in states that permitted them. With few exceptions, more than a dozen states currently ban abortion.
Austin noted, “The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has affected access to reproductive health care with consequences for the Force’s readiness, recruitment, and retention.”
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, many of our Service members and their families have expressed worry about the difficulty and unpredictability they now face in obtaining reproductive health care, particularly abortion services. We also acknowledge that recent events might put our healthcare professionals at jeopardy legally and financially as they carry out their legitimate government obligations.
In the memo, it is stated that “I am committed to the Department taking all appropriate action, within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, as soon as practicable to ensure that our Service members and their families can access reproductive health care and our health care providers can operate effectively.”
Abortion expenses will not be covered by the new allowances, and military physicians are only permitted to perform abortions under certain conditions. The Hyde Amendment limits government financing for abortions to just those situations involving rape, incest, or a danger to the health of the mother.
According to a Knights of Columbus/Marist survey conducted in January, the majority of Americans are against using tax monies to pay for elective abortion treatments either domestically or overseas.
The steps indicated in this letter will be carried out as quickly as practicable. To the greatest degree practicable, these steps will be completed no later than the end of this calendar year,” Austin stated.
The DoD’s health care providers were also warned by Austin that they “may not notify or disclose reproductive health information to commanders unless this presumption is overcome by specific exceptions set forth in policy, such as risk of harm to mission, occupational safety requirements, or acute medical conditions interfering with duty.”
Austin also praised “family planning” services offered by the military, directing the DoD to “launch a comprehensive contraceptive education campaign to boost Service members’ understanding of the options available to them and their families, including emergency contraception. The Department of Defense has removed TRICARE co-pays for medical contraception treatments, including intrauterine devices, which will also be highlighted in that educational campaign.
Austin also instructed the DoD to create a program to aid DoD medical professionals who face “adverse action,” such as fines or license revocation for providing abortions, according to Politico.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned and the decision to allow abortion was left up to each state’s discretion, the DoD statement is the most recent instance of federal agencies acting to support abortion access. The Department of Veterans Affairs stated in early September that it will start offering abortions in situations when the mother’s life or health is in danger, or where there has been rape or incest. Despite state laws, the organization, which has never previously provided abortions, said it intends to do so throughout the country.