The Pentagon will reimburse service members who need to travel to obtain an abortion, the department announced Thursday, a move that’s aimed at helping soldiers or their family members stationed in states where the procedure is no longer allowed.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a memo said the travel requirements of being in the military should not impact a person’s access to reproductive care. As a result, the department will provide leave and reimburse travel and transportation expenses for service members and their dependents.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision [to overturn Roe v. Wade], we have heard concerns from many of our Service members and their families about the complexity and the uncertainty that they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services,” Austin said in the order.
The cost of the procedure itself will not be covered.
“The practical effects of recent changes are that significant numbers of Service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work, and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care,” Austin wrote.
“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,” he wrote.
Military providers on-base can’t perform abortions, and military health insurance doesn’t cover abortion, even if it’s obtained from a private sector doctor. The Hyde amendment prohibits federal funding being used for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or threat to the pregnant person’s life.
The memo lays out new privacy protections for service members, and also directs the Pentagon to establish protections for military providers so they won’t face criminal or civil liability from state officials, or risk losing their licenses, for performing official duties. The department will also work to develop a program to reimburse applicable fees for Pentagon health care providers who wish to become licensed in a different state to prevent that from happening.
The memo stated that all actions will be completed no later than the end of this calendar year, “to the maximum extent possible.”