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House GOP Blocks Troops’ Abortion Care Access

Christine Grimaldi

“This issue is important because so many of our service members who get pregnant, who need an abortion, are finding themselves in really dangerous situations,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).

An effort to lift the ban prohibiting military facilities from providing on-site abortion care failed Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Marc Veasey (D-TX) sought to enable service members and their dependents to pay out of pocket for abortion care at defense medical facilities (MTFs). Under federal law enacted in 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense cannot provide abortion care at such facilities, even if a pregnant person shoulders the cost, except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the pregnant person’s life.

Speier during a marathon markup introduced the amendment in the House Armed Services Committee, which considered legislation (HR 4909) setting the fiscal year 2017 parameters for national defense. The National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional association of abortion providers, sent the committee a provider letter and coalition letter in support of lifting the ban on abortion care in MTFs. NARAL Pro-Choice America offered support via a fact sheet.

The amendment failed by a vote of 37 to 25.

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Speier, prior to the House Armed Services Committee’s vote on her amendment, faulted federal law for preventing service members from exercising the same constitutional right to an abortion as the civilians they protect.

“This issue is important because so many of our service members who get pregnant, who need an abortion, are finding themselves in really dangerous situations,” Speier said.

Service members stationed across the United States face significant hurdles in obtaining abortion care. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota restricts service members to travel boundaries, but the nearest abortion provider falls outside of that range, Speier said.

“Additionally, challenges both domestically and internationally include disclosing personal health information to their commanding officer in order to travel off base; approval by the unit commander, which might take days or weeks; the need to seek approval of mileage pass; limited or no access to a car; and local facilities abroad that are substandard, unsafe, or have language barriers,” she said. “Members, this is just the right thing to do for our service members.”

Republicans on the committee disagreed. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), the lawmaker behind the anti-choice misinformation campaign to ban so-called sex-selective and race-selective abortions, was among those who condemned the amendment.

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) touted the exceptions to abortion access codified in federal law. He claimed that many active duty health-care providers would opt out of performing the abortions, forcing the military to hire civilian providers and invest in equipment at the expense of taxpayers. “This will, in effect, create a government-run Planned Parenthood on all of the military bases,” he said.

Fleming said no one is preventing a service member from going off base and using the “great transportation” available to access the abortion facilities that exist in every state. But a recent investigation found that abortion clinics nationwide are shuttering at a dramatic rate.

As a result of state-level targeted regulation of abortion providers laws and, in some instances, anti-choice violence, a Bloomberg report found that at least 162 clinics that provided abortion services have either closed or stopped offering abortion since 2011, with 21 clinics opening during that time. The clinics have closed in 35 states home to a combined population of 30 million women of reproductive age. Missouri is one of five states with only one abortion clinic, as anti-choice state laws have closed all but the Planned Parenthood St. Louis clinic.

Veasey rebutted Fleming by citing the hurdles he has witnessed firsthand after the Texas state legislature passed the “draconian” HB 2. The law has left the state with one legal abortion provider for every one million Texans who could become pregnant. “This burden would be huge on the military women in the state of Texas,” Veasey said.

Speier is a vocal pro-choice advocate in the House. She serves on the GOP-led House select panel targeting fetal tissue research and consistently criticizes the panel’s tactics, as her Republican colleagues continue to rely on the widely discredited smear videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

“You know, this hearing belongs in a bad episode of House of Cards,” Speier said during last week’s inquiry into fetal tissue “pricing.” Republican lawmakers during the hearing repeatedly referred to the sale of “baby body parts” even though an independent third party disproved the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress videos.

NAF officials slammed the anti-choice lawmakers who blocked the amendment.

“This ban on abortion care in MTFs will continue to harm service women and their families until anti-abortion lawmakers allow a women and her doctor, not politicians and JAG Officers [the legal branch concerned with military justice and law], to decide when and where she will be able to obtain the medical care she needs,” NAF President and Chief Executive Officer Vicki Saporta said in a statement. “The House Armed Services Committee should be working to expand access to health care for our service women and their families, not continuing to restrict it.”

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