In a perfect world, this would all be resolved with a law codifying the right to abortion that would be passed and signed today. Aside from that, the Biden administration has a few options.
First, the DOD can take immediate steps to ensure that all our service personnel and their families have access to reproductive care. The military must establish and enforce clear guidelines that allow troops and their families to take time off work to access abortion care, regardless of where they are stationed, in a manner that preserves their privacy. One option could be a DOD policy that allows military doctors to prescribe convalescent leave to any service member who wants an abortion for any reason, giving them time to travel out of the state to seek abortion services. Still, the service member would have to pay the costs out of pocket, as military insurance cannot cover abortion services unrelated to rape, incest, or the impending death of the pregnant person.
The DOD’s hands are tied when it comes to providing comprehensive abortion services on bases as the Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds from being spent on abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger . In those situations, despite the Court’s ruling, it will still be possible for women to have an abortion at bases where it is offered, but many bases and installations do not have the appropriate facilities. Lawmakers should therefore reconsider whether the Hyde amendment, and a ban on extended abortion services at DOD facilities, is consistent with military preparedness. Politicians may not be motivated to protect reproductive rights, but the threat of a weakened military, marines, navy, space and air force could spur them into action. After all, these laws pose significantly greater risks to our national security today than yesterday.
In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is not under Hyde, must immediately conduct a full review of the regulations governing its own restrictions on abortion care. Secretary Denis McDonough may have the power to overturn existing regulations and begin providing abortion care to VA patients. The VA has a recent history of rewriting its own regulations — it now provides gender-affirming care, once banned, to VA patients.
Combined, these measures could restore the semblance of the right to choose to Americans who risk their lives for our rights. It may help mitigate the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling on veterans, those still in uniform, and their families. But it will never be enough. Ultimately, only the full restoration of reproductive rights will make things right.
As veterans, we have served our country in defense of freedom. We will not remain silent because the freedom to make our own choices about our bodies is being taken away here at home. We will not stop fighting until reproductive rights are fully restored for all our troops and for all Americans. The security of our country depends on it.
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