The Department of Defense (DOD) will provide special allowances for servicemembers seeking abortions to travel to states that allow abortions, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday.
New guidance from the Pentagon, released Thursday, aims to address a perceived retention problem among female servicemembers following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision in June.
The additional cost for personnel stationed in states that do not provide abortions to travel to ones that do may discourage the servicemembers from joining or remaining in the military, the Pentagon alleged.
“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,” Austin said in the statement.
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In the memo, Austin directed the services to establish dedicated travel and transportation funds should a servicemember need to travel to another state with more expansive laws for private abortion providers.
Travel for reproductive health care was not previously covered by the DOD, a defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The new policy “will reduce the burden and cost for our servicemembers” who need to travel, the official added.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision, we have heard concerns from many of our Service members and their families about the complexity and the uncertainty that they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services,” Austin said in the statement.
The department obtained “qualitative and quantitative” evidence that concern over abortion access has hurt recruiting and retention, a defense official told the DCNF, citing a September report from the research organization RAND Corporation that found possible implications of the Dobbs decision that could hurt the overall force. Miller did not specify whether or how many female servicemembers had left the force, instead referring reporters to the Pentagon’s upcoming annual report to Congress.
Following the landmark decision, the DOD said that its existing health care provisions would not change and promised to provide updated guidance as soon as possible to care for the “health and well-being” of servicemembers.
The new policy also outlines measures to expand contraception education and establish additional privacy protections. For example, Defense health care providers cannot disclose a servicemember’s medical information to her commander except in special circumstances, such as if doing so would result in detriment to the servicemember’s mission.
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Austin also pledged to protect health care providers from apparent legal pushback for DOD-operated health care facilities providing abortions in states that ban abortion completely.
Federal medical facilities, including those on military bases, can only provide abortions if the life of the mother is in danger or if a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, according to the Hyde Amendment. However, some states have outlawed abortion in all cases, including those covered by the legislation.