Pentagon pressed to defend abortions — Analysis

American servicemembers’ access to pregnancy terminations must be protected, abortion advocates insist

The Pentagon should be proactive in securing easy access to abortion services, activists and lawmakers say, demanding that the military ensure no soldier who wants to terminate a pregnancy is blocked by state legislation.

This issue arose following the publication of a draft US Supreme Court decision to the media this month. It indicated that Roe v. Wade, which recognized abortion as a constitutional rights, may have been overturned. The US Army and Air Force made it possible for troops to obtain time off to have abortions. However, supporters argued that the Pentagon should take steps to protect military access.

“This is not an Air Force issue, an Army issue, a Marine Corps issue, this is a national security, Department of Defense, personnel-readiness issue,”Rachel VanLandingham, a California law professor, spoke to The Hill in an article published on Sunday.

“So therefore, this policy should come from the Department of Defense itself.”VanLandingham was a former Air Force lieutenant. “There’s no room for disparities amongst the services.”

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The high court’s ruling would leave states to decide abortion rights in their jurisdictions. More than two dozen states are expected to ban or reduce access to abortion, and most of the US military’s domestic bases are in those locales.

An eighteen US senators wrote to Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense earlier this month warning that troops’ and civilian personnel’s abortion rights may be affected by the geographical location of the duty station. The decision also could hinder the military’s recruitment and retention efforts, as women might choose not to enlist or re-enlist on concern they could be forced to go through with an unwanted pregnancy, the lawmakers said.

“With our country facing the likely rollback of personal rights, what are you and your staff doing in preparation to protect the health and welfare of those under your command?”They asked. “What steps will you take to assist servicemembers in need of an abortion?”At minimum, the Pentagon needs to ensure that all troops are allowed to leave state for abortions.

Before the controversy the Army and Air Force changed their leave policies. They no longer required commander approval to allow them time off for terminations of pregnancies. “given the time-sensitive nature of the procedure.”The Army is willing to do more.

At a hearing held on May 12, Michael Grinston, Sergeant Major in the Army was asked whether there are plans to ensure access to abortion in post-Roe America. “The answer is yes, we are drafting policies to ensure we take care of our soldiers in an appropriate way,” He stated.

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And like the pro-abortion senators, the Army’s top enlisted soldier said the high court’s abortion ruling could undermine recruiting. “We do not want to disadvantage anyone in our force – men, women – or alienate anyone that is eligible to serve in the military,”Grinston stated. “We’ll continue to recruit as best we can with the policies that we have.”

The federal law prohibits military doctors providing these services. It means soldiers have to leave base to have abortions. Many would also have to travel outside the state to see an abortionist.

“Women in the military already have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies than civilian women,”Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a representative from Florida (D-Florida), spoke at the May 12 hearing. “For those female soldiers in states with restrictive abortion laws, their options for safe abortions may be completely erased if Roe v. Wade is overturned.”

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