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DOD may ease abortion travel after Supreme Court ruling

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is looking for ways to make it easier for women to get an abortion while serving in the military after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade and left abortion policy to the states.

By ending abortion’s status as a federally protected right, states are now free to develop their own rules and limits, and many of those rules are either in effect now or will soon take effect after Friday’s Supreme Court decision.

Some states like Alabama will only allow abortion when the life of the mother is at risk, while the procedure is banned entirely in Oklahoma. Most other states prohibit abortion after a certain number of weeks. For example, Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi all ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

There is nothing the Pentagon can do directly to lift abortion restrictions. Federal law says military medics cannot perform elective abortions and can only perform the procedure in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. The military has no say over a state’s abortion policy, which means service members will have to live by the rules set in each state.

On Friday, however, Austin signaled that the Pentagon is looking at rule changes that will help women service members travel to less restrictive states to get an abortion.

“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,” Austin said. “I am committed to taking care of our people and ensuring the readiness and resilience of our Force. The Department is examining this [Supreme Court] decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law.”

While Austin’s statement didn’t specifically address the idea of easing travel rules, Politico reported that the Defense Department is examining looking at “new policies for how female servicemembers stationed in states that have outlawed abortion can or can’t transfer elsewhere or receive the procedure.”

The focus on travel rules reflects the fact that service members are often severely limited in their ability to travel, and that traveling out of state for an abortion may require women to take more time off than anticipated.

The Hill and other outlets noted that about 20 percent of enlisted service members are women, and many are stationed in states with strict abortion laws.

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