A group of House Democrats has introduced a new bill that would require the military to provide a leave of absence for service members to receive abortions, including military payment to cover out-of-state travel.
The bill, called the “Access to Reproductive Care for Service Members Act,” was introduced to respond to requests for abortions by military members in states that have tightened abortion laws following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade in June.
“Abortion access should be a right, not a privilege,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Yet a recent study estimated that 40 percent of servicemembers will have no or severely restricted access to abortion services where they are stationed – something they have no control over. The fallout of being denied care will be catastrophic, as is the threat to our military readiness, recruitment, morale, and unit cohesion,” she added.
The new legislation will seek to add several new aspects to how abortions are handled by the military. First, it would redefine abortion as time-sensitive, requiring a commander to approve leave automatically. In addition, the act would allow service members to request and receive leave for abortion care without specifying to a commander the nature of the procedure.
In cases in which abortion is not legally provided in the state where the service member is stationed, the bill would require the Department of Defense to cover travel expenses similar to other “necessary” healthcare travel.
The new act would also prohibit retaliation or adverse action from commanding officers or other service members for getting an abortion.
Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a co-sponsor of the legislation, argued that abortion is an issue of military preparation.
“A woman’s choice to have an abortion should remain between her and her doctor – including for our servicemembers. Ensuring our troops have access to safe and reliable abortion care is both a matter of principle and troop readiness,” Crow said.
“During my time in the Army, I served alongside talented and brave servicewomen. Their service was – and is – a huge part of what makes our military the greatest fighting force in the world,” he added.
The Democratic lawmakers argue that the projected cost of travel for military personnel going out-of-state for an abortion is $1,100 or more, almost half of the monthly pay for a junior enlisted service member. Speier argued that covering the abortion-related expenses was “the least we can do.”