New federal abortion protections announced Friday by the White House will not mean any changes in access or availability for service members, Department of Defense officials said.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday “protecting access to reproductive health care services” for federal workers and individuals in states with restrictions on abortion. The move came two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional right to abortion does not exist, allowing states to outlaw the procedure.
So far, 18 states have announced full or partial bans on abortions in response to the ruling. In a statement, the White House said those moves mean that “fundamental rights have been denied to millions of women across the country, with grave implications for their health, lives, and wellbeing.”
In a signing ceremony at the White House, Biden blasted the Supreme Court for the ruling, saying it undermines “personal autonomy” by depriving women of their rights.
“The choice we face as a nation is between the mainstream and the extreme, between moving forward and moving backwards, between allowing politicians to enter the most personal parts of our lives and protecting the right to privacy,” he said.
The moves include providing leave for federal workers traveling for medical care, ensuring access to abortion medication across state lines, and $3 million in new funding to ensure that providers and clinics working with the Department of Health and Human Services “have appropriate training and resources to handle family planning needs.”
The White House also released a statement saying that the DoD would ensure “access to essential women’s health care services” and “continue to provide seamless access to reproductive healthcare for military and civilian patients, as permitted by federal law.”
However, Pentagon officials said that does not represent any change in policy for the military.
Military treatment facilities have completed fewer than 100 abortions in the past five calendar years, and only include cases related to rape, incest or pregnancies that would have killed the mother.
Last month, Pentagon officials announced plans to work with the Justice Department to make sure military health care staff aren’t prosecuted for helping troops obtain abortions. That includes referring troops to clinics across state lines when local laws prohibit the procedure.
Some states have begun efforts to criminalize traveling to other states to obtain an abortion or providing any assistance to such individuals. The legality of those efforts will likely result in a lengthy court fight.
However, military officials have not yet announced any changes in how leave for such out-of-state travel will be handled, and whether financial assistance could be provided.
Abortions covered by DoD qualify for nonchargeable leave and official travel. Troops can use their vacation time and their own funds to cover abortions in other circumstances. However, that leave must still be approved by a commanding officer.
Several Democratic lawmakers have proposed changes to ensure such time off is granted, but those efforts are still in early stages.
As part of the new executive order, Justice Department officials will convene a group of private attorneys and public interest organizations to provide “robust legal representation of patients, providers, and third parties lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.”
Those efforts could include troops facing command resistance to travel for abortion purposes.
In a statement, officials from the Republican National Committee blasted “Biden’s taxpayer-funded, abortion on-demand agenda” and said the moves contradict the ruling made by the Supreme Court.
DoD officials have said in recent weeks they continue to review military policies on the issue to consider possible changes. Biden said Friday he hopes the new executive order brings relief to some individuals facing limited options because of the ruling.
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.