Just over a year ago, this publication published an article I penned on the adverse impact that the landmark case of Dobbs v. Jackson (which overturned Roe v. Wade) would have on female service members. The piece underscored that these women, having chosen to serve our nation, had suddenly seen the terms of their service grossly altered in a manner that presented a variety of potential consequences.
At that time, it bore notice that a sudden lack of nationwide reproductive care off-base could leave women in the military facing difficult choices. With over 100 military installations within states where a woman’s right to an abortion faced legislative challenges, roughly 80,000 active-duty female service members — and 450,000 civilian spouses — were expected to be affected by the passage of Dobbs.
Those who could afford to travel and access abortions in other states would face costly cross-country trips. Meanwhile, junior enlisted personnel — many of whom have a take-home pay of less than $20,000 a year — would potentially be forced into dangerous healthcare decisions as they pursued procedures in alternate manners. These issues were the first layer of concerns resulting from the Dobbs decision.
After its publication, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services distributed the article throughout the Pentagon. A month later, the Office of the General Counsel for the Department of Defense concluded that “under its express statutory authorities and, independently, under the necessary expense doctrine... the DoD [could] lawfully expend funds to pay for service members and their dependents to travel to obtain abortions that DoD itself cannot perform due to statutory restrictions.” The DoD then announced it would follow said guidance and provide leave and travel expenses for troops seeking abortions.
At that moment, it seemed like the military could exit the political arena and return to its job defending the nation. But then, enter Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Those somehow still unfamiliar with the senator have missed out on no small amount of controversy.
He’s the son of a World War II veteran, whose honorable service Tommy tarnished by lying about its details, according to a Washington Post fact-check. He’s a self-declared patriot who swore to donate his Senate salary to veteran charities, but again according to a July Washington Post story, hasn’t done so. He’s a would-be philanthropist who started a charity to support veterans, before spending less than 20% of the group’s money on charitable causes, according to reports based on tax records.
His hypocrisy deserves additional notice because, as part of his crusade against reproductive rights, he railed against the “Biden administration trying to inject politics into the military,” in an April op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal.
However — to prevent transgender Americans from serving their nation — he did the same thing last February by co-sponsoring a bill that would insert his anti-trans politics into the military, claiming that allowing transgender Americans to serve is a distraction while “the world is on the brink of a major conflict, and America’s military must be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.”
Regarding readiness, he was — for once — correct. Military readiness is paramount, and politicians should step back and let the DoD focus on preparing for future wars.
Yet, the moment he could use the military to attempt to advance his anti-abortion agenda, Tuberville tossed readiness aside and left our service members without leaders at the highest levels of the chain of command. Over his displeasure with the DoD’s policy providing leave and travel for troops seeking abortion, Tuberville holds hostage the promotions of 300+ officers who await confirmation.
He ridiculously disputes “that any military readiness has been compromised” by these unprecedented confirmation delays. This claim is patently incorrect, as was recently pointed out by seven former Secretaries of Defense (Mark T. Esper, James N. Mattis, Chuck Hagel, Leon E. Panetta, Robert M. Gates, William S. Cohen, and William J. Perry) who signed a letter condemning Tuberville’s actions. Further, they noted that they could “think of few things as irresponsible and uncaring as harming the families of those who serve our nation in uniform.”
On his website, Tuberville claims that his father instilled in him the value of patriotism. He purports to be an ally to service members and claims to support veterans. However, he also appears willing to trade service member health and safety, as well as national security, for a chance to grandstand and curry favor with conservative voters who would ban transgender service members and strip women in service from being able to travel for reproductive care.
The senator needs to make up his mind. Does he care about preparing our military for potential near-peer conflicts? Or does he prioritize partisan politics and his agendas on abortion rights and transgender rights? So long as he’s choosing the latter, he threatens military readiness and national security. This truth must be recognized, acknowledged, and condemned not just by DoD leadership but by the troops on the ground, Alabama voters, and his fellow GOP members.
Army Staff Sgt. Zej Moczydlowski is a special operations combat medic who has served in the military for nearly a decade and a half on active and reserve status. He is also a second-year law student at Washington University in Saint Louis School of Law. These comments are his personal opinion and do not reflect the official position of the Department of the Army or the DoD.
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