Pentagon policy to pay travel expenses for abortions, other health care was used just 12 times from June to December
Pentagon policy to pay travel expenses for abortions, other health care was used just 12 times from June to December

An annual Pentagon policy to pay for the travel of service members who need reproductive health care not offered by the military — including abortions — was used 12 times from June to December, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

Paying for transportation, lodging and meals for those 12 round trips from the servicemember’s home station to the site of their health care costs the department $44,791, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said during a public briefing with reporters. It’s unclear how many of those trips involve abortion services, the policy area that has sparked the most controversy.

Still, the numbers show the travel policy, which was created after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and was the impetus for a Republican senator from Alabama who blocked hundreds of military raises last year, has had a minimal effect on the force by more than 2 million troops and a budget of over $800 billion.

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“These policies ensure that service members and their families are given the time and flexibility to make private health care decisions, as well as support access to uncovered reproductive health care, regardless of where they are deployed,” Singh said.

She noted that the newly released data has several limitations, including that the department did not begin tracking usage until months after the policy was implemented.

The Pentagon first announced in October 2022 that it would soon begin providing travel allowances and offering administrative leave for service members who need reproductive health care not covered by the military or offered by civilian doctors in the state in which they are located.

The announcement came months after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, which allowed states to begin banning abortions. In February 2023, the Pentagon filled in more details on the policy and said it would take effect the following month.

Although most of the attention on the policy has been related to abortions, it is also intended for service members who must travel for infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which has also recently been threatened by court rulings.

Days after the Pentagon’s February 2023 announcement, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., announced he would block fast-track confirmations for all general and flagship nominees until the Pentagon reverses the policy.

The Tuberville blockade lasted until December and eventually entangled more than 430 candidates for generals and admirals. As his fellow Republicans grew increasingly publicly frustrated that his actions threatened national security, Tuberville stepped down in December with no concessions from the Pentagon and the reproductive health care policy still in place.

Among the sometimes shifting reasons for Tuberville’s protest were claims that the Pentagon policy could facilitate thousands of abortions a year. His claim is based on an estimate from a Rand Corp. report. as of 2022, that between 2,573 and 4,136 active duty women have abortions annually. But the report’s authors said fewer women are likely to benefit from the Pentagon’s policy.

Democrats, meanwhile, argued that Tuberville was risking the military chain of command for a policy that would have a minor effect compared to the Pentagon’s overall force size and budget.

Some of Tuberville’s GOP backers also pointed to the small number of troops expected to use the policy — to argue that the Pentagon is digging in its heels over a policy they argued needed little evidence.

“My fellow Republicans and I asked you for evidence to support the Defense Department’s contention in a June 28, 2022 memorandum that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization would have “significant implications” for “Force readiness.” To date, we have yet to receive any substantial data to support these claims,” ​​Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in a September letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Wicker’s letter also said he had “received information” that “approximately 12” women had used the travel and leave policy.

The data released by the Pentagon on Tuesday tracked how many round trips were taken, not how many service members used the policy. Some treatments like IVF can require multiple doctor visits, and service members are allowed to use the policy more than once, meaning potentially fewer than 12 service members used the policy between June and December.

The Pentagon also didn’t track what type of reproductive health services members traveled for, meaning it’s impossible to know if anyone had an abortion.

And while the travel and leave was available as early as March 2023, the Pentagon didn’t begin tracking the policy’s use until August, reported. While the Pentagon was able to collect data as early as June, that still leaves usage in March, April and May unreported.

Singh described the numbers released on Tuesday as a “snapshot”.

It is also not yet known whether some military personnel have taken leave without applying for travel reimbursement. On Tuesday, the Pentagon did not release data on the number of administrative leaves taken under the policy.

Connected: Six months into the new abortion leave policy, the Pentagon doesn’t know how many soldiers have used it

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