Senate Democrats press Pentagon on abortion access after Supreme Court ruling

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) walks beneath the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) walks beneath the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

A group of Senate Democrats is pressing the Pentagon to protect abortion access following the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the senators warn that because of the ruling, service members’ rights to reproductive care are largely dependent on states, many of which either have already or are expected to prohibit or severely restrict abortions.

The lawmakers want the Pentagon to take action to protect service members that allow people stationed in states where abortion is restricted to leave and establish independent advocates who can confidentially assist in accessing abortions.

“Entrusted to your care are hundreds of thousands of troops, dependents, and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians who have lost access to safe abortions and now face threats of criminal prosecution for seeking out those services,” reads the letter, which is led by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.).

“As the leader of our military services, it falls on you to preserve the health and welfare of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians,” it continues.

In addition to Hirono, Thursday’s letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), Michael Bennet (Colo.) and John Hickenlooper (Colo.).

In mid-May, Gillibrand led a similar letter with Hirono, Duckworth, Warren and Rosen, pressing Austin to take action to protect service members after a draft of the court’s decision was published by Politico.

The military is prohibited by federal law from performing or paying the procedure unless the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or if it places the parent’s life at risk.

Thursday’s letter comes after Gil Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, issued a memo on Tuesday saying the military will continue to provide abortions in specific cases consistent with federal law.

Cisneros also said that service members would still be able to travel to receive an abortion, and that civilian employees can request sick leave or other forms of time off for reproductive care.

But in their letter, Hirono and her colleagues say that the memo “failed to speak to abortion access or protections for the rank and file,” adding that they “seek to better understand the implications this draconian ruling will have on Defense Department personnel.”

“The men and women who join the military sacrifice an incredible amount in order to serve their country. We owe it to these service members to look after them and ensure they have the ability to continue accessing safe reproductive health care no matter where their military service sends them,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We urge you expand on the Under Secretary’s memorandum and give this request the fullest possible consideration,” they added.

Tags Kirsten Gillibrand Lloyd Austin Mazie Hirono
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