The nationwide debate over abortion will be a key point of contention in the upcoming defense authorization bill process later this month, with a key Democratic lawmaker saying the issue needs to be part of the military readiness discussion.
“If readiness is impacted by the fact that women are going to have to travel thousands of miles when they are in need of an abortion service, then we need to look at that,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, said this week.
Committee staff said no specific language regarding military abortion services or access was included in the personnel section of the measure approved on Wednesday. Instead, the language focuses on things like the annual military pay raise and family support provisions.
But committee members will be able to offer a wide range of amendments on the issue as part of the full committee mark up on June 22.
Speier would not specify what proposals she or her colleagues will offer on the issue, but said that servicemembers should not be treated like “second-class citizens” when it comes to access to health care services.
“We need to clarify for service members who are raped, subjected to incest or have situations in which their life is at risk: Where can they actually get an abortion?” she said.
Last week, Speier and 81 other Democratic House members unveiled legislation that would allow military medical treatment facilities to provide abortion services to members of the military. Under current law, those procedures are banned except in cases of rape, incest and critical medical need.
But supporters say they believe a change is needed in the wake of reports that the Supreme Court later this summer could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across America.
At least 26 states — including locations like Texas, with major military bases — have indicated they will outlaw the procedure within days of such a Supreme Court decision. Speier and other democratic lawmakers have said that would leave military members assigned to those locations without medical options if they find themselves in need of an abortion.
Separately, numerous lawmakers have asked for defense officials to clarify rules regarding leave time and travel assistance if female troops seek an abortion across state lines. Army officials have said they are looking into the issue.
Past committee debates over the availability of abortion services at overseas military bases have provided some contentious moments in the annual defense bill work, with conservative lawmakers firmly against any loosening of the current rules.
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.