Funding Military Abortion Travel Is ‘Illegal’

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Congressional Republicans reminded the Department of Defense (DOD) on Thursday that it is barred from using taxpayer dollars to fund and facilitate abortions, according to a bicameral letter first obtained by the Daily Signal.

The letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), as well as Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and James Lankford (R-OK), refers to an October 20 memorandum from the DOD announcing that it would create “travel and transportation allowances for Service members and their dependents … to facilitate official travel to access non covered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a Service member’s permanent duty station.”

The DOD said it issued the memo in direct response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and claims funding abortion travel would be done in accordance with federal law. A DOD spokesman told the Daily Signal in October that “if the dependent of a service member lives in a state where abortion access is restricted, the DoD will cover their travel and transportation costs to a location where they can legally receive the care.”

But lawmakers wrote that “funding travel and transportation to obtain non-covered, elective abortions through the DoD would, in and of itself violate federal law. It also contradicts DoD’s past recognition, interpretation, and implementation of this law.”

The letter reads: 

After many years of preventing DOD from paying for elective abortions, in 1984 Congress made permanent the restriction in 10 U.S.C. § 1093. In 1993, President Bill Clinton attempted to circumvent the law; he issued a memorandum allowing federally-funded DOD facilities to provide abortions if “the procedure is privately funded.”1 Congress responded by further clarifying its intent. In 1996, it explicitly banned DOD facilities from performing abortions.

Now, through the travel and transportation policy, DOD is once again unlawfully claiming authority to use taxpayer funds to facilitate elective abortions if the abortion procedure itself is privately funded. However, Congress has already clarified that similar action by DOD to facilitate elective abortions violates federal law. This law continues to prohibit DOD from facilitating elective abortions today.

Lawmakers ended the letter by asking Austin to explain if the DOD has acted in accordance with its memorandum since it was issued and, if so, to detail where the money is coming from to fund the “illegal policy.” Lawmakers also asked “what week gestation would travel and transportation to obtain an elective abortion be provided,” if the policy includes transportation and travel for abortion “up until birth,” and if the DOD would “take responsibility for assessing the age of the unborn child.” 

We are appalled by the flagrant disregard for the law expressed by the Department in this memorandum. We request a meeting by no later than January 15, 2023, to personally reiterate our expectation that this memorandum be immediately withdrawn,” the letter concluded.

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