Senate votes to keep new VA abortion policy in place
Stars and Stripes April 19, 2023
The Senate voted down a resolution Wednesday that would have revoked a 7-month-old policy to allow abortions at heath care facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The 51-48 vote was mostly along party lines.
“The hard right is telling our veterans that they'll be treated as second-class citizens, and we say no way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a news conference before the Wednesday afternoon vote. “Despite everything our veterans have given to our country, it's outrageous. It's wrong. It's dangerous, and it ain't going to happen.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., introduced the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the authority to review major rules issued by federal agencies. He said in a separated news conference prior to voting that the VA’s new rule is an abuse of the law that forces taxpayers to fund abortions.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough issued an agency rule in September to allow the VA to provide access to abortion counseling and abortions to pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries in cases when the life or health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
The VA rule was implemented after the Supreme Court in the summer overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a federal right to abortion for nearly 50 years. This set off a wave of abortion bans and restrictions throughout the country. In Texas, abortions are banned at about six weeks into a pregnancy.
The VA had not previously provided abortion services but said it changed course in September based on feedback from VA health care providers and veterans across the country.
Opponents to the VA’s new policy have said it violates federal law. The Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 excluded abortions from the medical care that the VA could provide. But the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 allowed the VA to furnish hospital care and medical services determined to be needed.
Though the policy survived a Senate vote Wednesday, it also faces a legal challenge. A nurse practitioner at a VA facility in Texas filed a lawsuit in December against her employer citing the policy violates federal law and because she was not given a way to opt out of providing the service based on her religious beliefs.
The following month, the VA announced the process for requesting an exemption from providing abortion services or counseling. In doing so, Tuberville said Wednesday that the department “effectively admitted that there were no moral protections in this new policy that they pushed forward.”
The senator has also targeted the Defense Department for its policies to support service members seeking abortions by blocking nominations to the Senate for promotions of top-level officers.
“He’s threatening our national security by blocking over 180 military promotions,” Schumer said. “Tuberville’s stunt is kneecapping our military readiness in critical areas across the globe. All this to prevent Americans who served their country from accessing medical care and putting the power of choice instead in the hands of politicians.”