Veterans Affairs leaders are vowing to continue “providing reproductive health care” to patients in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion last week, but that won’t mean providing any new services or travel assistance to help women get the procedure.
In a statement issued just hours after the court overturned the long-standing Roe vs. Wade decision — which legalized abortion across America — VA Secretary Denis McDonough said that officials at the department were looking into what the decision would mean for individuals who use VA medical facilities.
“Access to gender-specific reproductive health services, including contraception and fertility services, is and will remain a critical component of veteran health care,” he said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs delivery of reproductive health care operations continues consistent with our federal legal authority, despite today’s Supreme Court decision.”
But VA officials clarified this week that “consistent with regulation, VA does not provide abortion services or travel assistance related to abortion procedures.” There are no current plans to change or challenge that.
The department also does not provide any “abortion counseling” services through its medical centers. Officials did not say whether VA physicians may update information about available services in light of the recent developments, particularly in states where the procedure is now outlawed.
At least 18 states have full or partial bans on abortions following the latest Supreme Court ruling. Democratic lawmakers have pressured administration officials to find ways to improve access to the procedure for women in those states, even if it means providing help for them to cross state lines.
That issue has been particularly problematic when it comes to members of the military, who may be stationed in states where abortions are illegal and may have their freedom to travel elsewhere restricted because of service obligations. Defense Department officials have said they are looking into the issue.
Several Democratic lawmakers have suggested in recent days that President Joe Biden could use federal land and federal facilities to allow abortion providers to work in regions where state officials have outlawed the procedure. That idea could include VA hospitals and clinics, found in every state across the country.
However, on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said administration officials see “dangerous ramifications” for such a plan, and are not currently pursuing it.
In his statement last week, McDonough said VA staff would be available to assist with related stress and anxiety caused by the Supreme Court ruling.
“We recognize that this may be an emotional time for veterans, families and our employees alike,” he said. “We must remember to support and respect each other as we continue to focus on veterans and their families.”
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.