Republican attorneys general from 15 states have warned they would challenge recent Department of Veterans Affairs rule changes allowing some abortions for patients in its facilities, according to a Nov. 17 letter.

The VA’s new abortion policy — which allows its clinicians to provide abortions in rape or incest cases or when the patient’s life or health are threatened even in states that have banned abortions — is “deeply flawed” and “unlawful,” wrote lead author Lynn Fitch, Mississippi’s attorney general, in a letter Nov. 17 to VA Secretary Dennis McDonough. 

The VA adopted the new rules in September, about 10 weeks after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortions across the United States.

The policy “rests on a claim of legal authority that the VA does not have, and it purports to override duly enacted state laws on matters within traditional state authority,” Fitch wrote. “We are prepared to respond decisively and to enforce the laws of our States.”

The letter was co-signed by attorneys general from Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

The policy changes allowed VA-provided abortions and abortion counseling for the first time. McDonough said the new rules would protect female veterans and other VA beneficiaries who may no longer have abortion access after the Roe ruling. 

At least 13 states have banned most abortions, four others have passed less restrictive abortion bans and courts have temporary blocked bans in at least 11 more states.

McDonough in September called the VA decision “a patient safety” policy. 

But Republicans almost immediately warned they would take action against the new rules in states that had moved in recent years to ban or limit abortions. The letter last week appeared to warn those states could soon take legal action against VA employees who provide any abortion services inconsistent with their state laws. 

Clinicians who provide abortion-related care that violates their states laws “do so at their own risk,” the attorney generals wrote. 

“We will not allow you to use this rule to erect a regime of elective abortions that defy state laws,” the letter reads. “We stand ready to move decisively against departures from the rule’s terms or its promises. And we will enforce our duly enacted state laws and hold you accountable for violations of federal law.”

Terrence Hayes, the VA’s top spokesman, said Monday the department remained committed to providing its some 600,000 women — about half of which are child-bearing age — the reproductive care they need — including life-saving abortions. 

“As VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said, ‘Pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most,’ ” Hayes said. “That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”

The Republican attorneys general wrote the issue should be decided by voters in individual states and not by a federal agency’s policies. 

“ ‘Abortion presents a profound moral question’ that is entrusted to ‘the people and their elected representatives’ to address,” the attorneys general wrote, citing the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe. “Like many of the [President Joe Biden] Administration’s abortion-related efforts, this new rule is an unlawful attempt to wrest that authority from the people. That attempt will fail.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., is shown in this undated file photo.

The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., is shown in this undated file photo. (Stars and Stripes)

author picture
Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up