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Pentagon to fund service members’ travel for abortions

Department of Defense photo by Army Sgt. Mark Hayward

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Biden administration’s nationwide campaign to promote abortion access made another advance Thursday (Oct. 20) – this time at the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense (DOD) announced it will provide funds for service members to travel to states where they can obtain abortions if they are stationed in locations where a ban on the procedure has been enacted. The “travel and transportation allowances,” which will also be for military dependents, and other policies announced Thursday are to be implemented by the end of the year, DOD Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memorandum.

The announcement came the same day it was reported President Biden said in a yet-to-be-aired interview he would support a federal fund to assist women with expenses for time off from work and child care so they can undergo abortions.

The developments were the latest in a series of actions by Biden and his administration to protect expansive abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June opinion that overruled the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and returned abortion regulation to the states. About half of the 50 states already have, or are expected to enact, laws that prohibit abortion either throughout pregnancy or at a stage of pregnancy.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) strongly protested the new DOD policy.

“The Pentagon’s mission is to protect American lives — not take them,” said Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager. “Our military should not be spending time and resources creating avenues where taxpayer resources can be utilized in ways that violate the consciences of millions of Americans.

“Across our culture, trust is being eroded in institution after institution because they become platforms for something beyond their specific mission,” she told Baptist Press in written comments. “That’s what is happening here. The Defense Department must not become yet another tool to advance the agenda of the pro-abortion movement.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-life America, said in a written statement, “The Biden administration will stop at nothing to impose abortion on demand until birth nationwide, paid for by taxpayers, no matter what laws they have to ignore or rewrite.”

In his memorandum, Austin said the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe “has impacted access to reproductive health care with readiness, recruiting, and retention implications” for the armed forces. He is committed to DOD doing all it can legally to assure service members can access abortion and other services and its medical professionals can function sufficiently.

While the allowances will pay for travel and transportation, they will not cover the performance of an abortion, a DOD official told Politico.

Among other policies announced in Austin’s memo, DOD will:

  • Reimburse the costs for department health-care providers to become licensed in other states and support them in case they incur civil or criminal penalties or lose their licenses in conducting their official responsibilities.
  • Institute protections for the privacy of service members regarding abortion and other reproductive health care services.

Biden endorsed a federal fund to assist women seeking abortions in an Oct. 18 interview with NowThis News that will be available Oct. 23 on social media, Axios reported.

In an interview with a panel of young adults, the president was asked if he would follow the example of companies that have begun paying for their employees’ expenses to travel to other states for abortions by supporting federal funding in such cases.

“The answer is absolutely … I do support that, and I’ve publicly urged companies to do that,” Biden said, according to Axios.

NowThis – a progressive, video-based news organization – has more than 80 million followers on social media, Axios reported.

Since Roe was overturned, Biden has ordered and overseen a series of policy actions seeking to offset the high court ruling. He announced the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe that his administration would protect interstate travel for abortions and access to drugs that end the lives of preborn children. He has promoted passage of a bill – the Women’s Health Protection Act – that would prohibit federal and state regulations of the procedure that were permitted by the Supreme Court under Roe.

Various federal departments in Biden’s administration have taken steps to promote access to abortion. These have included an interim final rule issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs in September that explicitly lifts a 30-year-old restriction by permitting the V.A. to provide abortions under some conditions.

Messengers to this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in June passed a pro-life resolution – something they have done more than 20 times since 1980 – before the Supreme Court’s decision that urged the justices to overrule Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion that affirmed it. In addition to encouraging increased pro-life ministry, the resolution also called for state legislatures to approve laws “that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, including both vulnerable women and children.”