Congressional Republicans are fuming over the Pentagon‘s plan to offer money and time off for troops to travel across state lines for legal abortions, calling the idea a politically motivated misuse of taxpayer money by the Biden administration at a time of record-high inflation and economic struggle across the country.
Over the past several days, Republicans have taken direct aim at the policy, unveiled by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a memo last Thursday.
In the memo, Mr. Austin ordered the Defense Department to craft policies offering “administrative absences” and travel and transportation reimbursement for pregnant service members who have to travel out of state for reproductive health care services, including abortions.
The document sought to answer outstanding questions about how the U.S. military will handle abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision in June reversing the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a national right to abortion.
The Pentagon memo suggests that under President Biden and Mr. Austin, the Department of Defense will take a proactive approach to ensuring that troops have equal access to abortions, even if they’re stationed in states that restrict the practice.
Critics say the move is motivated by politics, especially given that the memo was released less than three weeks before the high-stakes midterm elections on Nov. 8.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Department of Defense has allowed President Biden to blatantly misuse the United States military for political purposes. [The memo] from DoD, released nearly two weeks before the election, is a desperate campaign tactic that undermines the core mission of our military,” Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
“I demand answers from the Department of Defense on how this memo came to be. Taxpayer dollars meant for deterring China and other adversaries should not be squandered on campaign politics,” Mr. Rogers said. “DoD must be blocked from wasting any portion of their budget on this horrendous policy.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, called the memo “egregious” and said it reverses federal policies of not using taxpayer money to facilitate abortions.
In a Twitter post, Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, said the plan shows how Mr. Biden wants to use the military to push liberal priorities.
“He’s using the military to advance his radical pro-abortion agenda,” Mr. Scott tweeted. “Americans are struggling to make ends meet, and THIS is how he spends his time and our taxpayer dollars?! It’s disgusting.”
Under the new directive, Mr. Austin said military officials should create new uniform policies to allow for “appropriate administrative absence” for women who must travel for abortions — meaning the absences won’t count against their personal leave.
The Defense Department also should cover some of the travel costs associated with the trip, the Pentagon chief said.
“Our service members and their families are often required to travel or move to meet our staffing, operational and training requirements. Such moves should not limit their access to reproductive health care,” Mr. Austin wrote in the memo.
“The practical effects of recent changes are that significant numbers of service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work, and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care,” he wrote. “In my judgment, such effects qualify as unusual, extraordinary, hardship or emergency circumstances for service members and their dependents and will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”
To address those issues, Mr. Austin directed that the Pentagon: “Establish travel and transportation allowances for service members and their dependents, as appropriate and consistent with applicable federal law and operational requirements, and as necessary amend any applicable travel regulations, to facilitate official travel to access non-covered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a service member’s permanent duty station.”
Defense officials denied that politics played any role in the timing of the new policy.
“There is no timeline. We can’t work fast enough when it comes to taking care of our people,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters last week.