Republican lawmakers on Friday sharply criticized Defense Department plans to provide leave and cover travel costs for troops seeking abortions, calling it a move driven by politics and not the health care needs of the military.
But Democratic supporters of the new policy said it is needed to ensure that troops stationed in states where the procedure is outlawed still have access to their full range of medical care options.
“Service members and their families should have the right to make their own choices about their lives, health, and future,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I, said in a statement. “And female service members and prospective recruits should feel that military service remains a viable career option, regardless of where they may be assigned.”
In a memo Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined Pentagon plans to provide non-chargeable leave (which does not count against vacation time) and travel reimbursement for troops who travel across state lines seeking abortion access.
Federal rules prohibit defense officials from paying for abortion procedures, except in cases of rape, incest or threat to a mother’s life.
An estimated 80,000 active-duty female service members are currently stationed in states where abortion has been restricted by state laws. Austin said the move was necessary in the wake of the Supreme Court decision from June which overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which had legalized abortion nationwide.
But on Friday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., called the announcement “a desperate campaign tactic that undermines the core mission of our military.”
Rogers, who is in line to be chairman of the committee if Republicans win control of the House in the November elections, said he would demand answers on what funds were being used to promote abortion policies within the DoD instead of other military priorities.
“Taxpayer dollars meant for deterring China and other adversaries should not be squandered on campaign politics,” he said in a statement. “DoD must be blocked from wasting any portion of their budget on this horrendous policy.”
Similarly, Senate Armed Services Committee member Rick Scott, R-Fla., accused the White House of “using the military to advance [a] radical pro-abortion agenda.”
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, suggested on social media that Republicans in Congress should “refuse to vote a single additional penny to the Defense Department” until the policy is ended.
The issue is likely to be a key point of friction between the two parties during next year’s defense authorization bill and defense budget debates.
In a statement on Friday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., praised the Pentagon announcement as a way to “help alleviate the concerns of our servicemembers, giving them greater privacy to make highly personal health decisions and making reproductive services more accessible and affordable.”
He and other Democrats vowed to continue to push for more abortion access for troops where needed.
In his memo, Austin said the leave and travel reimbursement plans would be put in place “as soon as possible.”
Military Times Pentagon Bureau Chief Meghann Myers contributed to this story.
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.