Democrats propose expanded military leave so service members can get abortions

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More than a dozen House Democrats introduced legislation this week that would require the military to grant leaves of absence for service members to receive abortions, and would make the Department of Defense pay for service members’ out-of-state travel if needed.

The “Access to Reproductive Care for Service Members Act” is a response to the June Supreme Court ruling that said there is no constitutional right to abortion, a decision that overturned landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade and left it to states to regulate abortion access as they see fit. Democrats said many military bases are in states that will restrict abortion, and that their bill would help ensure service members can access abortion services.

“Abortion access should be a right, not a privilege,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. “Yet a recent study estimated that 40 percent of service members 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.”

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon on July 20, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon on July 20, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Democrats said that while abortion is a time-sensitive procedure, service members can face delays in the military as they request approval from their commanding officers to take leave. Under their bill, all commanding officers in the Department of Defense would be required to approve that leave.

In this Jan. 18, 2019, file photo, anti-abortion activists protest outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington. 

In this Jan. 18, 2019, file photo, anti-abortion activists protest outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The bill would not require service members to tell their commanding officers why they need a medical appointment. Democrats said that language was included because service members “may face retaliation for having an abortion if the information is disclosed to their commander or other service members.” It also explicitly bans retaliation against service members who take leave to get an abortion.

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Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat from New York, from left, Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat from Minnesota, and Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, march toward the US Supreme Court during a protest of the court overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat from New York, from left, Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat from Minnesota, and Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, march toward the US Supreme Court during a protest of the court overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The legislation, introduced by Speier and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., would require the Pentagon to pay for travel expenses if the service member needs to travel.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, abortion has been banned in several southern states barring exceptions such as when the life of the woman is at risk on cases involving rape or incest. Other states allow abortions up to a certain number of weeks, while others, such as Oregon and Colorado, allow abortions throughout the duration of a pregnancy.

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