FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—The Senate’s first female combat veteran is escalating the fight against the Defense Department’s newly revamped and expansive abortion policies.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced legislation Wednesday along with 35 of her Senate Republican colleagues to halt the Pentagon’s policies. The Defense Department announced Feb. 16 it would provide three weeks of paid leave and taxpayer-funded reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents who are seeking an abortion.
A study from Rand Corporation estimated the Pentagon’s new policies could increase the annual number of abortions from 20 to 4,100 among U.S. servicewomen.
Ernst, who served in the military for over 23 years and fought in Iraq, sounded the alarm on the Pentagon’s policies earlier this month when she joined other Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee to criticize Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision.
“The Pentagon should not be mobilized against the unborn. The Department of Defense exists to defend life, not destroy it,” Ernst said in a statement to The Daily Signal. “Biden DoD’s policy is not just unlawful, it’s immoral. Congress has been clear: the Hyde Amendment protects taxpayers from being forced to fund abortions. I will continue to ensure the unborn and your tax dollars are protected.”
Beginning in 1980 with passage of the Hyde Amendment, named for then-Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Congress has restricted use of federal funding to pay for abortions. Lawmakers have placed Hyde-like restrictions on funds available to the Defense Department as well.
Taxpayers favor such protections, too. A survey in January conducted by the Marist Poll and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus revealed that 54% of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.
The Biden administration has taken several steps to expand abortion access throughout the federal government since the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In response to the court’s overturning Roe v. Wade, the Defense Department issued an Oct. 20 memorandum, “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care,” promising easier access to abortion for U.S. military personnel.
The Pentagon outlined policies Feb. 16 that allow service members to have an abortion without being docked leave and also grant travel and transportation allowances to individuals who don’t live in an area with an abortion provider.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., warned the defense secretary in October to steer clear of divisive abortion policies at the Pentagon or face the prospect that military nominations wouldn’t receive a Senate confirmation vote.
Austin ignored the warning, prompting Tuberville to block the confirmations of U.S. military flag and general officers, as well as civilian nominees, unless the Pentagon rescinds its policies.
More than 20 pro-life conservative leaders announced their support for Tuberville’s efforts Wednesday, giving him the backing of a grassroots army amid strong Democrat objections.
The two separate efforts amount to a significant escalation in the GOP’s feud with the Pentagon over its abortion policies.
Ernst’s legislation has the backing of a majority of Senate Republicans, including Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; John Boozman, R-Ark.; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Katie Britt, R-Ala.; Ted Budd, R-N.C.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn.; Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.; John Kennedy, R-La.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.; Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; Pete Ricketts, R-Neb.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Eric Schmitt, R-Mo.; Rick Scott, R-Fla.; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.; and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio.