The Pentagon will pay for service members to travel to obtain abortions, in a move the military says will ease the burden on troops who wish to receive reproductive care and are stationed in states where the procedure is no longer legal, the department announced Thursday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday directed the Defense Department to establish travel and transportation allowances to ensure service members and their dependents have access, according to a memo.
“Our Service members and their families are often required to travel or move to meet our staffing, operational, and training requirements. Such moves should not limit their access to reproductive health care,” Austin wrote.
The “practical effects of recent changes” will ultimately hurt military readiness, Austin wrote, referring to the Supreme Court’s June decision to strike down Roe v. Wade.
Austin noted that “significant numbers” of service members and their families will be forced to travel, take time off work, and pay more out of pocket to receive reproductive care.
“In my judgment, 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,” he wrote.
Under current law, most abortions cannot be performed at military medical facilities and service members’ Tricare health insurance does not cover the cost of obtaining the procedure privately. The Hyde Amendment of 1976 prohibits the use of federal dollars for abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger.
The new policy will allow service members and dependents who must travel to access reproductive care to request travel allowances and an administrative absence from their normal duty stations so they don’t need to take leave, according to a DoD official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of the policy announcement.
This includes travel for care that is not covered by the Department of Defense, including abortion services and certain reproductive technology services such as in vitro fertilization, the official said.
Allowances will cover travel and transportation, but will not cover the procedure itself, the official said.
“These policies will reduce the burden and cost for our service members and their dependents who may require teachers to travel greater distances to access reproductive health care,” the official said.
Austin also directed the department to make a number of other changes related to reproductive health care, including establishing additional privacy protections; directing commanders to display “objectivity and discretion” when addressing reproductive health care matters; develop a program to reimburse applicable fees for DoD health care providers who wish to become licensed in a different state; and develop a program to support DoD health care providers who are subject to “adverse action” such as penalties or loss of license for performing abortions.