The Pentagon’s former personnel head warned that the Defense Department’s abortion access policies could be rescinded as early as next year if critics win key seats in the upcoming November elections.

“The Department of Defense’s abortion travel policy was a necessary, though incomplete, step to remedying the Supreme Court’s error. It also could be reversed on the very first day of a new administration,” wrote Gil Cisneros, the former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in an op-ed published by The Hill on Tuesday.

“Abortions bans — like anything else that unfairly puts hurdles between service members and necessary health care — pose a threat to military readiness. They erode the principles that make America strong.”

The military’s abortion access policy has been a source of controversy in Congress for the last year and is expected to be a major talking point for candidates on the campaign trail this summer. Cisneros, who served for nearly two years in his Pentagon post before stepping down in September, oversaw the policy during his tenure.

Service members can take up to three weeks of administrative leave and receive travel stipends to cross state lines for abortion services if local laws prohibit the procedures. White House officials have defended the policy as necessary for the health and readiness of troops. Conservative opponents have called it an illegal move to ignore state bans on abortions.

Last year, Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville blocked hundreds of defense nominees and promotions for nine months in protest of the policy. He relented on his procedural holds in December.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday petitioned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to rescind the policy, calling it “a barbaric practice.”

Cisneros, a Navy veteran, previously served in the House as a representative from California and has launched a new campaign to win that seat again this fall. In his op-ed, he called the military’s abortion access rules “one of the things I am most proud of working on during my tenure” and called the policy an issue of “basic fairness.”

He also warned that the upcoming presidential and congressional elections could mean an end to the policy, if Republican opponents win.

The military’s abortion access policy was put in place in response to a series of states outlawing the procedure following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

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.

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