Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin argued during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the policy, which was put into effect last month, was “based on strong legal grounds.”
The Pentagon’s policy came after the Supreme Court last summer overturned Roe v. Wade, which had held that abortion was a constitutional right. The Pentagon enacted several policies that would give troops the ability and money to travel out of state for abortions if they were stationed in states where it was illegal.
The Pentagon has long allowed for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk, but does not allow for or cover elective abortions. The Biden Pentagon’s new policy would allow troops up to three weeks of leave and cover travel and accommodation costs for elective abortions.
Republicans argue that the policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal — thus American taxpayer — funds from paying for abortions.
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Almost one in five of our troops are women. And they don’t get a chance to choose where their station so almost 80,000 of our women are stationed in places that where they don’t have access to the non-covered reproductive health care. And I heard from our troops, I heard from our senior leaders I heard from from our our chiefs, and also our secretaries. And in this policy is based on strong legal grounds.
Republican senators said their objections were not to abortion access, but to forcing American taxpayers to pay for costs associated with elective abortions, in contradiction to the Hyde Amendment.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, said:
I just want to state that I am adamantly opposed to the DOD’s new policy on allowing travel expenses for those that are going to other states to seek abortions. I think it’s incredibly important that we reman adherent to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from going towards abortions.
. . .
Those are taxpayer dollars being spent to fund the extension of an abortion. I am adamantly opposed. I know that there are others that are on this committee that agree as well. We’re not saying that women can’t seek abortions. They can do that, but that is to be privately funded.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has put a hold on the nomination of more than 150 Department of Defense nominees over the policy, which Austin argued would make the Pentagon less effective and affect those nominees and their families.
“My hold has nothing to do with the Supreme Court decision to the access of abortion. This is about not forcing the taxpayers of this country to fund abortions. That’s been a bipartisan consensus for more than 40 years,” Tuberville said at the hearing, adding:
As of 12 days ago, y’all got the American taxpayer on the hook to pay for travel and time off for elective abortions. And you did not make this with anybody in this room or Congress taking a vote. In fact, this contradicts what Congress has actually voted for. Most of us, some of us in the room, if not all senators that have been complaining about this have voted for the Hyde Amendment many, many times. But now my colleagues on the left think this abortion issue is good for a campaign, and that’s what this shouldn’t be about. I’m not going to let our military be politicized.
Tuberville vowed to fight the policy for as long as he served in the Senate.
“I want our military to be the strongest and deadliest it has ever been. But I also want the administration to follow the law. As long as I have a voice in this body, Congress will write the laws. Not the Secretary of Defense, not the Joint Chiefs,” he said, adding that if Democrats wanted to change the policy, they need to change the law.
Democrats during the hearing expressed support for the policy.