The Pentagon is picking up the tab for service members who opt to travel to obtain abortions, according to a new policy directive by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Austin announced Thursday that the Department of Defense was setting up transportation allowances for service members and their dependents who opt to travel to receive an abortion. The new policy, like the rest of the Pentagon, will be funded by taxpayer dollars.
“Our Service members and their families are often required to travel or move to meet our staffing, operational, and training requirements,” Austin wrote in a memo unveiling the policy. “Such moves should not limit their access to reproductive health care.”
The policy change comes in response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Earlier this year, the court ruled that there was no federal right to abortion — a move that essentially sent the issue back to state governments for regulation.
After the ruling, 13 states imposed bans on abortion. Several of those jurisdictions are home to large-scale military installations that house and employ thousands of military personnel.
Fort Hood, for instance, is located in Texas, where abortion is now illegal. The army base has an active military population of more than 40,000, not including civilian family members of service members stationed there.
Austin said that with some states banning abortion, service members and their families were now facing distinct disadvantages that could impact morale and recruitment.
“In my judgment, such effects qualify as unusual, extraordinary, hardship, or emergency circumstances for service members and their dependents and will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force,” Austin wrote.
The Defense Department’s new policy allows service members to request travel allowances if they or a dependent need to travel across state lines to obtain an abortion.
Federal law bans abortions from being performed on military bases. Tricare, the health insurance plan administered by the Pentagon for armed service members and their families, also does not cover the cost of the procedure.
Given that reality, the Defense Department’s new policy allows service members to request travel allowances if they or a dependent need to travel across state lines to obtain an abortion. The policy also allows service members to request an administrative absence from their duties in order to obtain an abortion, instead of having to take personal leave.