The Navy is authorizing up to 21 days of administrative leave for sailors seeking abortions and other reproductive health care that Department of Defense health care providers typically don’t — or cannot — provide.
While DoD health care providers cover abortions in the cases of rape or incest, Tricare providers do not cover abortions in other cases due to the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding from going toward some abortions.
The new policy change aims to facilitate service member’s access to abortions out-of-state, and also applies to assisted reproductive technology, including egg retrieval and sperm collection, and in-vitro fertilization.
“The period of absence will be limited to the minimum number of days essential to receive the required care and travel needed to access the care by the most expeditious means of transportation practicable,” according to a memo signed by Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro late last month. “COs will limit health information required to the minimum amount necessary to ensure eligibility and be reasonably sure the duration of the time authorized meets this criteria.”
The Navy’s policy is in accordance with Pentagon guidance issued in February, which instructed the services to establish travel and transportation allowances for service members seeking non-covered abortion and reproductive services out of state. That applies to sailors and those accompanying a dependent or spouse.
The guidance comes after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022, which raised questions about about ‘ access to reproductive health care and whether they could request exemptions from being stationed in states where abortion access is limited.
“Travel funding is the responsibility of the command authorizing the travel,” the Navy message said. “Commands must adhere to fiscal regulations and may not authorize travel which is not required or for which funding is not available, but all levels of leadership are expected to support this policy and prioritize available resources accordingly.”
Those eligible for the leave are active duty sailors who are receiving care, or are accompanying a military spouse or dependent. Reserve component sailors on active duty orders for 30 or more consecutive days are also eligible.
Service members may also be eligible for convalescent leave, based on the recommendation of the sailor’s health care provider.
An accompanying naval administrative message to the policy urges commanding officers to not delay and make decisions approving administrative leave requests within five days.
“It is the responsibility of the commanding officer (CO) or approval authorities to meet operational requirements and protect the health and safety of those in their care,” the message said. “COs or approval authorities are expected to continue to display objectivity, compassion, and discretion when addressing all health care matters, including reproductive health care matters, and have a duty to enforce existing policies against discrimination and retaliation in the context of reproductive health care choices.
In the event a sailor or dependent chooses to not proceed with the treatment, the Navy will not charge the sailor with administrative leave.
Military Times’ Pentagon Chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.