By Mary Margaret Olohan
In the wake of news that the Pentagon will pay for service members and their dependents to travel to abort their unborn babies, Republicans are reminding the Department of Defense that it may not fund abortions.
“Both the law itself and Congressional intent are clear: the U.S. military may not fund elective abortion,” the bicameral group of lawmakers said in a letter first obtained by The Daily Signal. “This necessarily includes funding for any activity necessitated by the abortion, such as travel and transportation.”
The letter, led by Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma, references the Pentagon’s Oct. 20 memorandum announcing that the Defense Department would establish “travel and transportation allowances for Service members and their dependents … to facilitate official travel to access non covered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a Service member’s permanent duty station.”
The October announcement noted that the move was a direct response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The memorandum claims that funding abortion travel would be done in accordance with federal law, but the Republicans note that funding travel and transportation to get abortions through the DOD would “in and of itself violate federal law” and contradict the Defense Department’s “past recognition, interpretation, and implementation of this law.”
“Congress has clearly and consistently acted to prevent the U.S. military from funding elective abortion procedures and services necessitated by those procedures, and DOD has acknowledged and complied with the law,” the Republicans said. “We are appalled by the flagrant disregard for the law expressed by the Department in this memorandum.”
The lawmakers called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to explain whether the DOD has begun providing transportation and travel for abortions, and if so, where the money is coming from to fund this “illegal policy.” They also demanded specifics on during “what week gestation would travel and transportation to obtain an elective abortion be provided”—including whether the DOD would implement the illegal policy up until birth.
The Pentagon memo, which framed the move as a response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, also said that it will develop a program to reimburse fees for those Defense Department health care providers who “wish to become licensed in a different state than that in which they are currently licensed”—suggesting that those who want to perform abortions in states other than the one they are currently licensed may do so on the Pentagon’s dime.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered that the actions outlined in his memo be executed “as soon as possible,” noting that all actions must be completed no later than the end of the calendar year.
“Our greatest strength is our people,” he concluded. “There is no higher priority than taking care of our people, and ensuring their health and well-being. The Department of Defense will continue to closely evaluate our policies to ensure that we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as appropriate and consistent with federal law.”
In response to a request for comment from The Daily Signal, Department of Defense spokesman Charlie Dietz confirmed in October that “if the dependent of a service member lives in a state where abortion access is restricted, the DoD will cover their travel and transportation costs to a location where they can legally receive the care.”