House lawmakers are attempting to undo policies allowing Defense Department service members to use leave, and travel and transportation allowances to obtain reproductive care for themselves or their dependents.

With the fallout of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade still settling two years later, House lawmakers added a provision to the fiscal 2025 defense appropriations bill that restricts leave and reimbursement benefits for federal employees seeking an abortion or related procedures. On Friday, the $833 billion bill was approved in a 217-199 vote.

“Biden’s Department of Defense is using taxpayer dollars to fund time off, lodging and travel expenses for elective abortions, directly violating the long-standing Hyde Amendment in yet another attempt to promote abortion,” said Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Tx., who led that amendment to the defense bill.

In 2022, Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo permitting three weeks of “administrative absence,” which doesn’t charge leave balance, for service members to receive reproductive health care or support a dependent seeking it. The policy came after states began initiating legislation to restrict abortion after the Supreme Court overturned the longstanding constitutional protection in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

As of April, 41 states have some kind of abortion restriction in place, 14 of which are a total ban, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for reproductive rights worldwide.

The benefit in question only provides reimbursement of travels costs to get access to otherwise noncovered reproductive health care services; it does not pay for the actual procedures with government funds. The policy also permits time off for appointments that may be related to infertility treatments.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping bill that would’ve made IVF more affordable and accessible to veterans, service members and feds.

Just this March, the Pentagon released numbers showing how many in the department used the abortion travel policy since it was implemented in 2022. Between June and December 2023, the policy was used 12 times across the services, costing roughly $45,000.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at the time that count may include individuals who used the policy more than once.

In addition to overriding the 2022 memo establishing these policies, the amendment makes an attempt to bar any future rules with the same objective.

“The bill furthers Republicans’ goal of making abortion illegal nationally by making it harder for women in our military to obtain reproductive care,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. “No woman deserves to have her health care and family planning decisions made by politicians, but especially those who have put their lives on the line to protect all Americans’ rights and freedoms.”

Now that the House has passed its version of the defense bill, it will send it to the Senate for consideration.

Both chambers must reconcile their differences before the spending bill can become law.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In Other News
Load More