New Pentagon policy helps soldiers who travel get abortions. Republicans want to block it.

Even before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, service members were fighting to get abortions. Navigating the various state laws, trying to get leave and figuring out the travel arrangements wasn’t easy.

“Because it was so difficult, the barriers that I had to overcome and jump over came back to where I thought I fit in the military,” said Air Force Maj. Sharon Arana.

In 2009, Arana became pregnant while in officer training in Alabama. She took the test in a gas station bathroom instead of going to the base clinic, fearing her command would find out about the pregnancy.

Arana and her boyfriend eventually decided to seek a medical abortion, but they couldn’t get an appointment in Alabama because there were so few clinics. When they drove to Georgia, they ran into another problem. The couple paid several hundred dollars for a hotel, medical imaging and tests, only to be told that Georgia state law required a cooling-off period.

“They said, ‘Well, there’s a three-day waiting period,'” Arana said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t have three days, I have to get back to training.’ So we went back the next day and I finished that week.

Arana later suffered an abortion in New York during a planned leave to visit her family. But if that free time was no longer available, she said she doesn’t know what she would do.

Those experiences are most important to her now that abortion is no longer protected by federal law. Arana has told her story and even testified before Congress, concerned that experiences like hers will become more common.

“This directly affects our airmen now and our families,” she said. “None of us asked for any of this. We don’t choose where we live. We don’t get to choose where we are stationed… We have to be protected from a lot of it.

Arana also helped shape a new Defense Department policy that allows service members to take up to three weeks of administrative leave for abortion or infertility treatment and reimburses them for travel expenses. That gives service members more time — 20 weeks — before they have to notify commanders of their pregnancy. It also restricts health care providers from telling commanders.

“The department has heard from service members and their families about the complexities and uncertainties they now face in accessing reproductive health care,” said Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman.

“The efforts of the Department of Reproductive Health Care not only ensure that service members and their families are given the time and flexibility to make personal and private health care decisions, but also ensure that service members have access to care no matter where they are located. These policies help address the fact that service members may be forced to travel longer distances, take more time off work, and pay more out-of-pocket costs to access reproductive health care.

According to some advocates, the military has taken an important step to meet the health needs of soldiers.

“The military hasn’t really been a leader on reproductive access issues in the past, and to see them take seriously the needs of service members is a refreshing change, especially in the context of gender,” said Clare McKinney, a College of William and Mary professor who studies gender. politics and reproduction.

To take leave, service members need only identify their request to their commanding officer as an “unmet reproductive health need.” But to receive travel reimbursement, they must obtain confirmation of their pregnancy from a medical provider on or off base and provide details of the clinic where they sought abortion or infertility treatment.

Lori Fenner, director of government relations for the Service Women’s Action Network, said the policy does a good job of balancing the privacy of troops with the demands of the mission — but that implementing it won’t be easy.

“There are going to be problems,” Fenner said. “There are commanders who won’t get the word out or who won’t agree and will do everything they can to cut this short. Because they believe their mission is the number one priority. But the secretary reminds them that the health and care of their members is what fulfills that mission.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are trying to block the policy.

With the Hyde Amendment and other provisions, Congress now prohibits the federal government from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama argued that paying for a trip to an abortion provider violates Hyde’s spirit.

“Minister Austin’s new policy on abortion is immoral and possibly illegal. If he wants to change the law, he has to go through Congress,” he said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Republican members of Congress say they plan to try to make the policy outright illegal. They have proposed legislation that would prohibit the Department of Defense from funding military trips for abortions.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans.

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