Defense Department officials are defending a personnel policy that provides service members with easier access to abortion by covering travel expenses and leave for medical care. Republicans, however, are pushing for a vote on an amendment that would reverse the Pentagon's abortion leave policy as part of the annual defense policy bill.
In a memo to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin argued that the policy was implemented to ensure that troops are not disadvantaged in accessing healthcare due to their service and that failing to address this issue would harm retention. He emphasized the importance of providing high-quality healthcare, including reproductive health care, to protect the well-being of service members and maintain military readiness.
Despite the closed-door briefing held for the committee, the briefing did little to change minds find a path forward on confirming military nominees or resolving the impasse with Senator Tommy Tuberville, who has blocked confirmation of nominees over his objections to the abortion policy.
The policy in question allows service members to take non-chargeable leave and have travel expenses covered if they need to seek reproductive health care that the Pentagon does not provide. While the policy covers more than just abortion, the abortion aspect has sparked political controversy.
House Republicans recently voted to reverse the Pentagon policy as part of their version of the annual defense bill. Senate Republicans are also pushing for a vote to reverse the policy during the Senate's debate on the defense bill. However, it remains uncertain whether the Senate's Democratic leadership will allow a vote on the policy.
Senator Tuberville's opposition to the policy has led to his blocking of promotions of generals and admirals since February. Democrats and Pentagon leaders have increased pressure on him to relent, but there has been no breakthrough in the standoff.
The memo provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee did not offer new information about the policy's usage, as tracking mechanisms are still being finalized. The memo referred to a legal analysis from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel released in October to address questions about the policy's legality.
The Defense Department strongly opposes the amendment proposed by Senator Joni Ernst that would reverse the policy, arguing that it goes beyond returning to the old policy and would ban medical convalescent leave after an abortion. The department emphasized the importance of protecting service members' privacy and access reproductive health care while meeting operational requirements and ensuring the health and safety of those in their care.