US military agrees to give troops additional leave, free travel for abortions
Stars and Stripes February 17, 2023
Service members will soon be entitled to up to three weeks of additional leave to have an abortion and may also be eligible to have their travel costs to and from abortion clinics reimbursed by the government.
It’s part of a set of policies announced Thursday by the Defense Department aimed at helping military members and their dependents who must travel out of state to terminate a pregnancy.
In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade, and since then, several states have passed laws outlawing abortions in most cases.
Some of the most restrictive states, including Texas and Louisiana, are home to major military installations, and there has been concern over how the new laws would affect troops.
The DOD’s decision will “ensure service members are able to access non-covered reproductive health care regardless of where they are stationed,” the statement said.
Three policies aimed at improving service members’ access to reproductive health care and abortion services will go into effect March 18.
The first policy provides as much as 21 days of leave for troops to receive an abortion or fertility treatments. That time is not subtracted from other leave allowances.
The length of absence will be limited to the number of days required for the person to receive the care and travel to a service provider, according to the policy. Service members accompanying a spouse or dependent for such care also qualify.
The second policy stipulates that those who must leave their duty stations to receive reproductive care can be reimbursed for their travel fees.
And the third gives pregnant service women up to 20 weeks to notify their commands about their situation, which would allow them more privately to get an abortion if they choose.
The new rules follow from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s directive in October 2022 ordering the military services to take steps to ensure that troops and their families can access reproductive care not covered by the military health insurance plan Tricare.
Military hospitals can perform abortions only if the mother’s life is endangered or in cases of rape or incest. Until now, government-funded travel was available only to those terminating pregnancies for those reasons.
“These policies reinforce the secretary of defense’s commitment to taking care of our people,” a DOD statement said Thursday.
In September, the nonpartisan research group Rand Corp. warned that the reversal of Roe v. Wade could persuade thousands of military women to leave the armed forces.
Almost half of active-duty service women stationed in the U.S. would have very limited access to abortion services or none at all because of the ruling, according to the report.
“Ultimately, the most important effect might be a decrease in force readiness and our national security,” the report said.