House lawmakers demand standardized leave policies and financial support for service members seeking abortions

The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, seen in July 2021. (Daniel Slim, AFP, Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Friday urged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to expand abortion access for service members and their families as the Supreme Court seeks to strike down a landmark law preventing states from banning abortion. procedure.

Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., called on Austin and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to expand the Army and State’s furlough policies. the Air Force by accommodating abortion care across all branches of service, strengthening privacy protections and providing financial support to service members who must travel to access an abortion.

“We are gravely concerned about the reproductive privacy and health care rights of service members, especially given the unique challenges that service members face, including for those serving in States that are about to ban or restrict abortion and potentially other reproductive health care if the [Supreme Court] dismantles Roe v. Wade,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter signed by 79 other House members.

Twenty-six states are likely to move quickly to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is allowed to fall, 13 of them – Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming have laws in place “triggers” that would immediately end abortion by Supreme Court order, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization that was formerly part of Planned Parenthood.

Each of these states is home to military installations, with the largest concentration in Texas.

Lawmakers said service members are particularly vulnerable to restrictions on abortion rights because they already face barriers when seeking the procedure. Challenges include the need to seek approval from their commanding officer to take leave, long-distance travel when stationed in places where abortion is not available, and lack of funds to travel out of town. the basis for seeking treatment, they said.

Service members who have abortions can also face retaliation from their commander or other troops if others find out they had the procedure, the lawmakers wrote. TRICARE, the military health insurance, only covers abortion when the mother’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

“In a post-Roe world, service members stationed in states where abortion is banned or severely regulated will need additional leave, resources, and financial support to facilitate travel to states where abortion is accessible,” the lawmakers wrote. “The consequence of delays and difficulties accessing care in multiple states could mean that the service member is forced to carry a pregnancy against their will.”

Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee moved this week to codify access to abortion care leave into law, proposing a 2023 budget bill for the Pentagon that would prohibit the Department of Defense from denying to military and civilian employees of free time to have an abortion. The provision would also allow leave for their spouses or partners.

House lawmakers pushed to strengthen abortion rights for troops after an impending Supreme Court draft ruling leaked last month. Speier and 81 other Democrats introduced a bill this month that would allow military medical treatment facilities to provide abortion services to service members.

The issue is also front and center in the Senate, where Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, launched an impassioned plea for safeguarding women’s reproductive rights last week. Hirono has co-sponsored legislation that mirrors the House bill.

“Military members have the right to control their own body no matter where they are stationed,” Hirono told a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting. “It is important to protect the bodily autonomy of soldiers. Who decides what to do with his body, the woman or a group of politicians?

Speier and Crow said the military needs to standardize leave policies established by the Army and Air Force, which allow service members to request abortion leave without obtaining prior approval from their commanding officer or detailing the nature of the health service they plan to receive.

Lawmakers also want the Department of Defense to provide grants and reimbursement for travel expenses off base, or to another state, to obtain an abortion.

“Everyone, including members of our armed forces and their families, should be free to make decisions about their future and their families, including the decision to have an abortion,” they wrote. “Limiting access to these services will negatively impact morale, retention, overall joint force health and will profoundly harm the overall readiness of the armed forces.”

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