Republican Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is leading a bill to overturn a Department of Defense (DOD) policy from February that funds travel for pregnant troops to other states for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.
The bill, titled “Modification to Department of Defense Travel Authorities for Abortion-Related Expenses Act of 2023,” calls the policy illegal and revokes DOD authorities to pay for travel to states with less restrictive abortion laws. It also says that living in a state that bans abortion does not constitute a “hardship” under the Hyde Amendment and therefore provide a legal justification for receiving an abortion.
“The Pentagon should not be mobilized against the unborn. The Department of Defense exists to defend life, not destroy it,” Ernst said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The bill is co-signed by Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who serves as ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and at least 32 other Republican senators at the time of writing.
“Biden DoD’s policy is not just unlawful, it’s immoral. Congress has been clear: the Hyde Amendment protects taxpayers from being forced to fund abortions,” Ernst said.
The Hyde Amendment bars DOD from administering abortions at military medical facilities in case of rape, incest, or life-threatening pregnancies, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. The military health plan can only cover abortions sought in private abortion centers for the same reasons, leaving women to pay for elective abortions.
After the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision gave states the authority to determine localized abortion policies, DOD lacked procedures for allowing female service members to have abortions if they are stationed in one of the states that bans or tightly restricts the practice.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised to pay for troops to travel to states that allow abortions and obtain so-called “reproductive health care” at non-military facilities.
The Biden administration’s new policy allows military members to request up to 21 days of leave to travel to other states for abortions, either for themselves or a spouse or dependents.
Commanders are instructed to approve the absence when a need is identified by the service member unless “the Service member’s absence would impair proper execution of the military mission,” the policy states.
“Our Service members and their families do not control where they are stationed, and due to the nature of military service, are frequently required to travel or move to meet operational requirements,” a DOD press release stated. The DOD’s efforts will ensure pregnant servicemembers are “afforded time and flexibility to make private health care decisions” and access private abortion providers regardless of where they are stationed.
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