Pentagon pledges funds, help for troops seeking abortions

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The Pentagon will offer travel assistance and support to troops and their families who need abortions but are based in areas where the procedure is now prohibited. The military will also strengthen privacy safeguards for anyone seeking medical attention, according to a new department policy issued on Thursday. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s memo specifies the rights and protections service personnel and their dependents will receive regardless of where they are based, which was a major concern for troops when the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in June.

The accessibility to abortion has emerged as a key issue in the midterm elections. If Democrats have enough seats in Congress to enact it, President Joe Biden indicated this week that the first bill he sends to Capitol Hill the next year will be one that codifies abortion safeguards into law.

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Women’s constitutional rights to abortion were eliminated by the high court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which also gave states the authority to decide whether abortions are permitted in their jurisdictions. Since then, more than a dozen states have outlawed or severely restricted abortion.

The new policy establishes rules so that local commanders cannot control whether service members have access to care or foster an environment where service members or their dependents are afraid to report problems for fear of punishment. It builds on the Pentagon’s initial response in June, when it said it would continue to permit medical leave for service members who needed to travel out of state for abortions but noted it needed to carefully consider the court decision and ensuing state laws to determine whether any additional guidance would be required.

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The new regulations also extend the time a service member must notify commanders of a pregnancy to 20 weeks and give additional protections to defence healthcare providers who perform abortions. Each military base is also required to publicly list the reproductive health care services available to service members and their dependents.

(With inputs from agencies)

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