WASHINGTON — A controversial military policy that allows service members to be reimbursed for travel if they or a family member have to go out of state for reproductive health care — including abortions — was used just 12 times from June to December last year, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 to ensure that troops who were assigned to states where abortions or other types of health care such as IVF treatment were no longer provided could still access those services.

The policy sparked outrage in some circles and led Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville to hold up hundreds of military promotions for months in a failed attempt to get the Pentagon to rescind it. Tuberville ultimately withdrew all of his holds in December.

The travel policy was used by service members or their dependents 12 times during that seven-month period at a cost of roughly $40,000, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday. The money covered lodging, meals and transportation for out-of-state travel to receive care.

The Pentagon said it did not have data on the first five months of 2023 because the services did not establish a way to track those uses when the policy was first implemented.

The policy does not cover the cost of abortions, and it’s not clear how many of the 12 trips were for abortions or other type of reproductive health care, such as IVF treatment. Singh said the Pentagon would not have a specific breakdown of what services were sought by the service members or their dependents due to medical privacy issues.

Under federal law, Defense Department medical facilities can perform abortions only when the life of the pregnant person is at risk or in cases of rape or incest, and those instances have been extremely rare. According to the department, there were 91 abortions performed in military medical facilities between 2016 and 2021.

For months, many of the military officers directly affected by Tuberville’s holds declined to speak out, for fear any comments would be seen as political. But as the pressures on their lives and the lives of the officers serving under them increased, they began to speak about how the uncertainty surrounding their next move was hurting not only them but their children and spouses.

They talked about how some of their most talented junior officers were going to get out of the military because of the instability they saw around them, and about how having to perform multiple roles because of so many vacancies was putting enormous additional stress on an already overworked military community.

The issue came to a head when U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith suffered a heart attack in October, just two days after he’d talked about the stress of the holds at a military conference. Smith fully returned to his duties only in the last few weeks.

Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.

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