The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee chided the Pentagon on Friday after it announced that it will help pay for troops’ travel to obtain abortions.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama slammed a memo establishing the new policy, signed Thursday by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as a political move ahead of the Nov. 8 elections and demanded answers on the memo’s origin.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Department of Defense has allowed President Biden to blatantly misuse the United States Military for political purposes,” Rogers said in a statement. “Yesterday’s memo from DoD, released nearly two weeks before the election, is a desperate campaign tactic that undermines the core mission of our military.”
Austin’s memo establishes travel and transportation allowances for military personnel and dependents who seek abortions but are forced to travel because they are stationed in states where the procedure is banned.
The new policy will not cover the cost of abortions, and federal law prohibits the Defense Department from paying for the procedure or performing it at its medical facilities in most cases.
Austin’s memo also directs a number of other changes regarding reproductive care, including implementing additional privacy protections for troops. He also directed the department to allow administrative absences for reproductive care so service members don’t need to take leave.
In the memo, Austin said frequent moves for troops and their families “should not limit their access to reproductive care.” He said the “practical effects of recent changes” in law will hamper military readiness.
Rogers, who will likely chair the Armed Services panel next year if Republicans win the House, countered that the move is a misuse of military dollars and demanded answers “on how this memo came to be.”
“Taxpayer dollars meant for deterring China and other adversaries should not be squandered on campaign politics,” he said. “DoD must be blocked from wasting any portion of their budget on this horrendous policy.”
Congressional Democrats, who have pushed to shore up service members’ access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade this summer, cheered the new policy.
“The practical effect of the Supreme Court’s decision is that troops have been forced to travel greater distances, take more time off work, and pay more out-of-pocket expenses to access reproductive health care,” said Senate Armed Service Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.). “Secretary Austin’s orders will help address some of these burdens.”
Some House Democrats pushed unsuccessfully to repeal limits on military medical facilities performing abortions in the wake of the ruling. A group of Senate Democrats is pushing to codify the right of military personnel to use convalescent leave to obtain abortions.