The Pentagon seeks to reassure the military on access to abortion

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a directive Thursday intended to reassure military service members that the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade would not leave troops without access to abortion in states where the procedure had been banned.

The Pentagon will provide travel funds and other support to women who seek abortions but are based in states where the procedure is illegal, the directive says.

It also basically tells commanders not to ask too many questions when women request leave for reproductive health reasons.

Austin said Pentagon officials had heard “many members of our services and their families speak of the complexity and uncertainty they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion”.

The new policy directs Department of Defense health care providers not to disclose reproductive health information to commanders unless the information poses a risk to the mission. And he advises the Pentagon to develop a program to support and reimburse Department of Defense health care providers who are fined or targeted by states for performing abortions.

Mr Austin ordered the services to implement the changes by the end of the year.

But it was far from clear whether the directive would give servicewomen seeking to terminate unwanted pregnancies the protection necessary to do so in a medically safe manner.

The Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade’s ending of the constitutional right to abortion has become one of the defining issues of the midterm elections, with Democrats vowing to seek to expand access to abortion if they regain control of both chambers. of Congress with enough votes to pass such a measure.

The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, except in cases of rape or incest, or when the patient’s life is in danger. But after the Supreme Court ruling, some states banned the procedure, with no exceptions.

Pentagon officials say that when a pregnant servicewoman’s life is threatened, the Hyde Amendment stipulations would supersede all state bans.

“I pledge that the department will take all appropriate steps, within its authority and in accordance with applicable federal law, as soon as possible to ensure that our service members and their families can access reproductive health care and that our health care providers can function effectively,” Mr. Austin said in the memorandum.

Pentagon officials acknowledge there is little they can do for women in states where abortion is banned, but say the directive to commanders is meant to help.

Defense officials, who were already worried about hitting recruiting targets, fear the court’s decision will affect the department’s ability to recruit and retain service members, who could be assigned to a state that has banned the abortion.

The military has a number of major bases in states, including Texas and Florida, where anti-abortion laws are now in place.