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Pentagon to pay for service members' travel across state lines to access abortion

The Pentagon will establish a travel allowance and administrative leave policy so service members can travel across state lines for reproductive health services, including abortions, according to a Defense Department memo released Thursday.

"Our Service members and their families are often required to travel or move to meet our staffing, operational, and training requirements," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in the  memo.. "Such moves should not limit their access to reproductive health care." 

Under federal law, military health providers can only provide abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother is at risk. Service members and their family members who want an abortion not related to those categories must seek care outside of the military system. 

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June does not impact that policy. 

Since the Dobbs decision, current and potential service members have expressed concerns to Pentagon officials about being stationed in states that have laws restricting abortion access. 

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 11: The American flag is unfurled on
The American flag is unfurled on the side of the Pentagon to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, September 11, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.  Oliver Contreras/for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A report from the RAND corporation released over the summer estimated that about 80,000 female service members live in states that either have full or partial bans, soon-to-be in-place bans, court-blocked bans or gestational limits up to 18 weeks. 

The travel allowance will provide service members funding to travel for reproductive health care not covered by the Department of Defense, such as non-covered abortion services and certain non-covered assisted reproductive technology services like in-vitro fertilization. The service members are responsible for the cost of the non-covered reproductive health care they receive. 

The memo also directs the Pentagon to develop a program to support Defense Department health care providers who are subject to adverse action, like civil or criminal penalties or loss of license for conducting covered abortion services. 

Officials told reporters that this program is meant to "reassure" Defense Department health providers who are concerned they could face adversity for performing the abortions they're federally allowed to provide - in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. 

"Ultimately, the range of actions outlined in the Secretary's memo, which will be completed no later than the end of the calendar year, will ensure that we recruit, retain and maintain the readiness of our nation's highly qualified fighting force," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Thursday. 

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