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The US defense chief vows to protect ‘health and well-being’ of American troops
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon is reviewing its policies and available options “as permitted by federal law,” to protect American servicemembers’ access to pregnancy terminations following the Supreme Court move to repeal Roe v. Wade.
“The Department is examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law,” Austin said in a brief statement on Friday, after the Supreme Court struck down a 1973 ruling that guaranteed the absolute right to a first-trimester abortion and limited rights in the second.
“Nothing is more important to me or to this Department than the health and well-being of our Service members, the civilian workforce and DOD families,” the US defense chief added.
The Department of Defense has come under increased pressure by activists and lawmakers to ensure easy access to abortion services for American troops since a draft SCOTUS ruling was leaked to the media in May.
Federal law forbidding use of tax dollars for most abortions precludes military doctors from providing such services. That means troops have to travel off base for abortions, and with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many would have to go to a provider in another state.
Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming have all banned abortion in most cases since Friday’s ruling, or will do so in the coming days and weeks. In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina, legislation will soon take effect banning elective abortions past a cutoff point between six and 15 weeks into pregnancy. Lawmakers in several other states, including Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia, have promised to introduce similar restrictions in the near future.
Although the US Army and Air Force have taken steps to make it easier for troops to get time off for abortions, pro-choice activists have argued that the Pentagon must take action to ensure that all branches of the military protect access to such services.