A Supreme Court draft ruling leaked last week indicates a high likelihood that the landmark Roe v Wade ruling will be overturned. This would make abortions all but unavailable to military service members and their families.
As federal employees, medical doctors are already prohibited from performing abortions on military installations. This forces troops and dependents to pursue abortion options off post if they choose to do so.
If the landmark ruling of Roe v Wade ends up overturned after almost 50 years, as many as 26 states can be counted on to pass their own legislation adding additional restrictions on abortions, if not outlawing them altogether. According to Sean Timmons, a specialist in military law and managing partner at Tulley Rinckey, a number of these states, including but not limited to Florida, Texas, and North Carolina, are home to a number of the country’s military bases.
Associate professor at Southwestern Law School, Rachel VanLandingham, who specializes in national security law, said:
“It places an undue burden on women serving in the military because they are going to have to go through extraordinary lengths to seek fair access to reproductive health care, which they wouldn’t be facing if they hadn’t joined the military, for example, and then been stationed in a state that has very restrictive access.”
Jim Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, disagrees with the idea that new abortion laws will negatively impact female recruitment numbers. According to him, “I have seen nothing from the Department of Defense that has led me to believe that access to abortion is a factor in recruiting and retention one way or another.”
Despite the senators optimism, women account for almost to 20% of the 1.3 million active duty service members currently serving, and the military is already having an historically hard time feeding qualified candidates into their recruitment pipeline.
The Hyde Amendment of 1976 is a legislative provision that forbids abortions to be performed using federal dollars unless the pregnancy is caused by incest or rape, or threatens the life of the woman. This legislation ultimately means that abortions cannot be done in military facilities. Even if a service member or dependent chooses to have an abortion performed off post, the cost of the procedure is not covered by the servicemember’s military health insurance.
According to Timmons, female service members who would have to travel out of state to procure a legal abortion would need the approval of their command, and would likely have to state the reason for travel in their request. He says that this “could well lead to additional hostile work environment, harassment, obnoxious behavior from colleagues if they know why the absence is necessitated.”
In 2020, a Government Accountability Office report revealed that “female service members are 28% more likely to separate from service than their male active-duty counterparts.” The report pointed to dependent care, family planning, and sexual assault as some of the leading causes for women to voluntarily separate.