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Rick Scott Wants DOD to Rescind Abortion Travel Policy

This week, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., joined more than 20 other Senate Republicans in signing a letter led by U.S. Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC, to U.S. Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin denounced the department’s policy of paying the travel expenses of those servicemembers and dependents seeking abortions.

The letter also stresses that “our men and women in uniform deserve Senate-confirmed leadership, but the current situation began with your original sin of promulgating the Policy.” The letter concludes by calling on Secretary Austin to, “Do the right thing. Rescind the Policy now.”

The letter is below.

Secretary Austin:

You have broken your promise to the American people not to politicize the military, and your actions have harmed and threaten to further harm institutional norms within our democracy. On June 28, 2022, four days after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, you issued a memorandum to senior leaders in the Department of Defense (“Department”) stating that the Department is authorized to pay for government-funded, official travel for active duty personnel to receive abortions outside of the state in which they are stationed.

On October 20, 2022, you issued the memorandum Travel for Non-Covered Reproductive Health Care Services, properly referred to as the Department’s abortion travel policy (“Policy”), which directed the Department to pay travel expenses not only for active duty personnel to receive abortions, but for their dependents to receive abortions as well. Importantly, on July 19, 2023, at a hearing on the Department’s abortion travel policy, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness confirmed that this policy extends to late-term abortions.

All legislative power is vested in Congress, and the Executive branch is responsible for implementing and enforcing the law. While the Department may issue regulations, it can only do so under the laws authorized and enacted by Congress. But, Congress never authorized the Department to expend funds to facilitate abortions and, until the Policy was issued, the military never facilitated abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother would be endangered if the unborn child were carried to term. Now taxpayers—many of whom have deeply-held religious and moral objections to abortions—are on the hook to facilitate the very abortions they fundamentally oppose. Indeed, a Marist poll in January 2023 found that 60% of Americans strongly oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for an abortion, consistent with polls taken throughout recent years.

Rather than respect the Supreme Court’s decision, you decided to engage the Department, and our men and women in uniform, in a policy debate properly reserved for the legislature. You did so by claiming that Dobbs had “readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force.” By your own officials’ admissions, however, the Department has no data to support that claim, and few servicemembers or dependents have utilized the Policy.

After multiple inquiries from Congress on this question, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness finally confirmed that “The Department does not have any data on women being deterred from joining the military for fear of being stationed at an installation or base in a state or nation that has restrictive abortion laws.” Finally, a recent letter from the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed that only 12 women have taken advantage of the Policy since its inception, which undercuts your argument that Dobbs has significant recruiting and retention implications.

Our men and women in uniform deserve Senate-confirmed leadership but the current situation began with your original sin of promulgating the Policy. Much has been made in the press about one Senator’s decision to try and stop your egregious wrongs, without acknowledging the Senate Majority Leader’s refusal to bring general and flag officer nominations to the floor until forced to by Republicans. Seeking to circumvent the Senate prerogative of the informal “hold” practice without addressing the underlying causes—the novel Policy and the subsequent refusal of the Majority to bring these nominees to the floor—will not ultimately reconcile this matter. It could create a toxic precedent with lasting negative effects on future military nominations.

Your decision to issue the Policy politicized the military and placed the wants of a few over the needs of the entire nation.

Do the right thing. Rescind the Policy now.

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