In a perfect world, all of this would be solved by a law codifying the right to abortion, which would pass and be signed today. Beyond that, however, the Biden administration has some options.
First, the Department of Defense can immediately take steps to ensure that all of our service members and their families have access to reproductive care. The military must implement and enforce clear directives that allow troops and their families to take leave to access abortion treatment, wherever they are stationed, in a way that preserves their privacy. One option could be a DOD policy that allows military doctors to prescribe convalescence center leave to any service member seeking an abortion, for whatever reason, which would allow them to travel out of state to seek abortion services. Still, the official would have to pay for the expenses out of his own pocket, as military insurance cannot reimburse abortion benefits unrelated to the rape, incest, or impending death of the pregnant woman.
The DOD’s hands are tied when it comes to providing comprehensive abortion services on bases because the Hyde amendment restricts federal funds from being used on any abortion unrelated to rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. In those cases, despite the Court’s ruling, it will still be possible for women to have an abortion at bases where it is offered, but many bases or installations do not have the proper facilities. Legislators must therefore reconsider whether the Hyde amendment and a ban on comprehensive abortion services at DOD facilities are in line with military preparedness. Politicians may not be motivated to protect reproductive rights, but the threat of a weakened army, marines, navy, space force and air force could just spur them on to action. After all, these laws are significantly greater risks to our national security today than they were yesterday.
In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is not subject to Hyde, should immediately conduct a full review of the rules governing its own restrictions on abortion treatment. Secretary Denis McDonough may be empowered to overturn the existing regulation and begin providing abortion treatment to VA patients. VA has a recent history of rewriting its own rules – it now provides gender reassignment care, once banned, to VA patients.
Combined, these measures can restore some hint of the right to vote for Americans who risk their lives for our rights. It can help mitigate the effects that the Supreme Court decision will have on veterans, those still in uniform, and their families. But it will never be enough. In the end, only the full restoration of reproductive rights will make things right.
As veterans, we served our country in defense of freedom. We will not be silent as the freedom to make our own choices about our body is taken away at home. We will not stop fighting until reproductive rights are fully restored for all our troops and for all Americans. The security of our nation depends on it.
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