Republican lawmakers decried new Defense Department plans to provide travel expenses and leave time for troops’ interstate travel to obtain abortion services, vowing their own response to counter the changes in coming months.
“Today, [President Joe] Biden’s administration chose to make the Department of Defense an abortion travel agency over a lethal fighting force,” Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement following the announcement.
“As I have repeatedly told the political leaders of this administration, taking this action jeopardizes congressional authorizations for our warfighters. I am extremely disappointed the administration chose once again to use our military to placate the radical left.”
On Thursday, military leaders unveiled a series of new policies aimed at easing service members’ ability to access reproductive health care. They include fully paid travel expenses for troops who have to go out of state to obtain an abortion and up to three weeks of leave to accompany a dependent or spouse for such services.
The issue of troops’ access to abortions has been a focus of advocacy groups since last summer, when the Supreme Court overturned the long-standing Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.
Since then, 24 states have instituted bans or restrictions on doctors providing abortions, although some of those new laws face court challenges.
The decision has been touted by abortion rights advocates as particularly problematic for military members, who can be given years-long assignments to states where their options for such medical care is limited.
Defense Department officials said the new policies are designed to soften the impact, allowing service members to obtain “non-covered reproductive health care” without running afoul of duty assignments and local laws.
But Republican lawmakers have blasted the decision as an effort to use the military to advance the Democratic party’s own political agenda.
“The Pentagon should be singularly focused on improving readiness and lethality, and there is no compelling argument or data that shows aiding abortions helps us complete that mission,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in a statement. “Heavy-handed, far-left social policy has no place at the Department of Defense.”
Wicker said he will “demand answers and accountability on this disastrous decision” in months to come.
But Rogers’ comments may be more problematic for Pentagon planners, since Republicans hold the majority in that chamber. Hearings on the policy — and the broader issue of abortions among military members — are expected later this spring.
The Republican controlled House committee could also include abortion restrictions in its draft of the annual defense authorization bill, due out in late spring.
For their part, Democratic congressional leaders praised the new policy announcement.
“The Defense Department’s new policies ensuring access to non-covered reproductive health care — including travel costs, expanded leave and more time to notify command of pregnancy — will help address readiness and ensure the health and well-being of service members and their families,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement.
The services have until mid-March to implement the new abortion access policies, according to the Defense Department’s release.
Reporter Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.