Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., warned the Pentagon last Friday that he would block all civilian Defense Department nominations if it implemented a recently announced policy for funding travel for its employees’ abortions.
Tuberville is a member of the Armed Services Committee, which approves DoD nominees. His letter warned that the DoD’s new policy – outlined in an Oct. 30 memo – would illegally increase the number of department-subsidized abortions to as many as 4,100 per year from 20 per year.
Existing law allows DoD to fund or provide abortions in cases of rape, incest, or pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life. 10 U.S. Code § 1093 reads: “Funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has indicated he will extend support to cover travel expenses after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Our Service members and their families are often required to travel or move to meet our staffing, operational, and training requirements,” he wrote in the memo, titled “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care.”
“Such moves should not limit their access to reproductive health care,” he added. “The practical effects of recent changes are that significant numbers of Service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work, and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care. In my judgment, such effects qualify as unusual, extraordinary, hardship, or emergency circumstances for Service members and their dependents and will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”
Tuberville noted that Austin’s new policy would cover families, meaning that the senator’s estimate of 4,100 abortions is likely undercounting the true number that will be supported by the Pentagon.
He added that the policy would force taxpayers to fund abortions even if they had rejected the procedure in their own state.
“As six states and the District of Columbia have no abortion restrictions, your policy would force taxpayers to finance access to abortions without protections other states have duly enacted such as waiting periods and prohibitions on late-term abortions,” he wrote. “Like me, many Americans find abortions morally repugnant.”
It’s unclear how Tuberville’s threats will ultimately impact the DoD’s nominating process, which has reportedly encountered substantial roadblocks. The Alabama senator had placed a separate hold in order to compel DoD to brief him on their implementation of their abortion policy, Inside Defense reported. That briefing occurred last week, prompting Tuberville’s letter on Friday.
According to DefenseNews, at least nine DoD nominees are awaiting a full chamber vote. Nominations for two assistant secretaries of defense are currently pending before the committee.
Besides Tuberville, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and James Lankford of Oklahoma reportedly threatened to block defense nominees over Afghanistan and mandatory vaccines respectively.