Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Pentagon lifts block on abortion-related websites

The Pentagon is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Arlington, Va.
Greg Nash
An aerial view of the Pentagon, as seen in a November 2021 file photo.

The Pentagon will lift a long-standing ban and allow military and civilian personnel to access abortion-related websites on the agency’s computers. 

We’ll share what the new rule entails, plus the latest demands to the Biden administration to help free WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian detainment. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Pentagon allows access to abortion-related websites

The Department of Defense (DOD) said Wednesday that it will stop blocking abortion-related websites from its networks, allowing military and civilian personnel to access the sites on the agency’s computers. 

“We continually evaluate the categorized content that is blocked on DOD networks,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Gorman told The Hill in an emailed statement. 

“We determined that we should allow content categorized as abortion-related on healthcare requirements,” he added. 

Why they were previously blocked: Gorman told The Hill that access to these sites was previously restricted due to bandwidth concerns. 

Across the board: “We are working our way through all DOD networks now to ensure that restriction is lifted uniformly,” he added. “Further, we are updating our broader policy to ensure consistency and access to appropriate information for the DoD workforce.” 

The timing: The change, which was first reported by The Military Times, comes as the agency faces tough questions on how it will protect service members seeking abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. 

Federal law prohibits the military from providing the service unless a pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if it endangers the life of the parent. 

Last Tuesday, Gil Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, issued a memo saying that the high court’s action wouldn’t affect the agency’s ability to provide abortions. 

Under pressure: On Friday, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) led a group of her Democratic colleagues in a letter pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to protect abortion rights for service members, particularly in states that are poised to restrict the service. 

“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,” the Democrats wrote. 

Read more here

Demand to bring Brittney Griner home grows

More than 1,000 Black women have signed a letter to President Biden demanding the administration step up its efforts to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian detainment.  

The letter, signed by 1,200 women of all ages and professions, was the work of Win With Black Women, a collective of intergenerational and intersectional Black women across the nation.   

“It’s been more than 134 days and in our opinion that’s just 134 days too many for anyone to be subjected to the conditions [Griner] has been,” said Jotaka Eaddy, founder of Win With Black Women. 

A quick refresher: Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist, was detained by the Russian Federal Customs Service in February on charges of possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a contraband substance in Russia. Her trial began July 1. 

Who signed the letter: Signers of the letter included Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.; Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association; and Dawn Staley, basketball Hall of Famer, three-time Olympic gold medalist and head coach of South Carolina Gamecocks. 

A new urgency: In a statement to The Hill, Jackson said the letter helps the organization “raise the alarm and convey a clear message of urgency to the President about our sister.” 

“This letter in support of Brittney is an embrace from a powerful group of women that strengthens our resolve and allows us to keep fighting for BG,” Jackson said. “We are not The 144 without her. We need BG back home now with her family.” 

The collective’s letter follows Griner’s handwritten note to the president on July 4 begging for a prisoner exchange. In her letter, Griner said she is “terrified” she will be in Russia forever. 

While Biden officials have said they will do all they can to bring Griner home, the collective’s letter said its members are “concerned that the rhetoric does not appear to align with the actions taken to date.” 

Read more here 

Read more from The Hill: 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress will host a virtual event on “Defense and the Future of War,” at 11 a.m.   
  • The Wilson Center will hold a talk on “The Role of Belarus in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: From Guarantor of Security to a Source of Instability,” at 12 p.m. 
  • Brookings Institution will hold a virtual discussion on “Why Foreign Talent is Critical to National Security,” with former Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, and former U.S. Central Command Commander retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, at 1 p.m.  
  • Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak at the Hudson Institute at 1:30 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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