The Pentagon on Thursday announced in a memo that it would issue new policies granting administrative leave and travel expenses for troops seeking an abortion.
The policies were among several announced in the memo, signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, addressing abortion and pregnancy in the military after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was overturned in June.
As noted by the Military Times, restrictions prevent federal money from paying for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life and such abortions cannot be performed by military providers. Not every military health facility has doctors who are legally able to perform them.
The new policies will allow women in the military to travel to states where abortions can be performed at little cost other than the out-of-pocket expense for the procedure.
The Pentagon also announced that it would establish additional privacy protections for reproductive health care information in the military, including guidance that directs military doctors that they cannot disclose such information to commanders unless there is a “risk of harm to mission, occupational safety requirements, or acute medical conditions interfering with duty.”
The amount of time soldiers have to notify commanders of pregnancy has also been extended to no later than 20 weeks after conception.
“The recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has impacted access to reproductive health care with readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force,” Austin wrote in the memo.
“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 also said that Defense Department healthcare providers should not be held personally liable for performing their official duties. His comments come after numerous states moved to enact laws criminalizing abortion and adding civil liabilities for those who perform them.
He said that he has directed the Defense Department to develop a program to reimburse fees incurred by military healthcare providers who seek to obtain medical licenses in states where they are not licensed “in order to support the performance of official duties.”
Austin added that he has also ordered the creation of a program to support military healthcare providers “who are subject to adverse action.”
The Defense Department will also improve its websites to clarify what medical care treatments are available through TRICARE and other military health systems after an abortion.
“The actions outlined in this memorandum will be executed as soon as possible. All actions will be completed no later than the end of this calendar year, to the maximum extent possible,” Austin said.
“Our greatest strength is our people. There is no higher priority than taking care of our people, and ensuring their health and well-being.”
A Rand Corporation study funded by the Defense Department found earlier this year that around 80,000 women are active-duty service members stationed in states which have enacted such laws since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“This means that 40% of active-duty servicewomen in the continental United States will have no or severely restricted access to abortion services where they are stationed. These women make up 18% of the stateside total active-duty force,” the Rand study reads.
“It is important to note that the vast majority of active-duty women are of reproductive age — 95% are under age 45.”
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