VA staff shouldn’t be required to perform or assist with abortions
Special to Stars and Stripes November 3, 2022
Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs ended the public’s opportunity to comment on its new interim final rule (VA Rule) titled “Reproductive Health Services,” immediately allowing elective abortions at VA medical clinics. The rule allows for abortions, with no mention of gestational age limits, whenever they can be justified as “needed to promote … the health of the [mother].” The rule received 57,900 public comments, many of which opposed the VA’s decision.
Under such a vague requirement, is there any abortion that President Joe Biden’s VA wouldn’t perform? How will this new, broad authorization affect VA staff who don’t want to perform or assist with an abortion due to either religious or moral beliefs?
Once again, the Biden administration seems ignorant of the law, or just doesn’t care. The new VA rule disregards longstanding federal law that prohibits VA clinics from performing abortions. Since 1992, Congress has prohibited abortions at VA clinics in Section 106(a) of the Veterans Health Care Act, which provides that “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may provide to women ... [g]eneral reproductive health care ... but not including under this section ... abortions.” So why the sudden illegal push for change?
It seems the Biden administration is grasping at straws to perform as many abortions as possible despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. Dobbs overturned Roe v. Wade and held that the people and their elected representatives may regulate abortion for legitimate reasons.
And while federal law protects the rights of VA staff who don’t want to perform or assist with abortions, the Biden administration has a terrible track record when it comes to respecting the religious liberties of service members.
First Liberty Institute is representing servicemembers in both the Navy and Air Force who have religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Federal law should protect the religious rights of those servicemembers. But the court that granted a preliminary injunction to Navy members noted that the Navy’s religious accommodation process is, “by all accounts … theater. The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It merely rubber stamps each denial.”
So, what does this mean for staff at VA clinics who have a religious objection to performing or assisting with an abortion? Ominously, there is no provision within the VA rule explaining how religious accommodations will be processed.
Given the Biden administration’s track record, we anticipate having to go to court to protect the rights of VA clinic staff who have conscientious objections to participating in abortions.
In response to Dobbs, the Biden administration’s new VA rule weeps and gnashes its teeth: “[I]rrespective of what laws or policies States may impose, veterans who receive [care at VA clinics] will be able to obtain abortions…” Thus, the goal of this VA rule is to be a workaround to the people’s and their representatives’ legitimate exercise of power to protect vulnerable human life.
Further, the VA rule warns that, if VA clinics don’t immediately start performing abortions, “veterans will face serious threats to their life and health.”
The rule’s claims have no basis in fact. No state laws prohibit abortion to save a mother’s life, and many states already allow abortion in cases of rape or incest. The VA rule is not saving women’s lives. Rather, it creates taxpayer funded abortion-on-demand.
And the abortions have already begun: VA Secretary Denis McDonough confirmed on Sept. 21 that at least one VA medical center has performed an abortion.
VA facilities can continue to provide the same quality of life-saving medical care for pregnant veterans and their dependents. And because there is no prohibition on providing this critical health care post-Dobbs, the VA’s rule must be seen for what it is – the Biden administration’s intentional misrepresentation of facts to promote the illegal practice of ending human fetal life.
Danielle Runyan, a member of the Air Force Reserve and a plaintiff in the lawsuit Spence v. Austin, and Christine Pratt are Counsel for First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm exclusively dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans.