The Defense Department is removing online restrictions for service members attempting to visit abortion care websites.
The Pentagon decided to lift the restrictions in the name of providing proper medical care. The decision comes just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a Roe v. Wade, which protected right to an abortion for the last half century.
“We continually evaluate the categorized content that is blocked on DoD networks,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman, told Federal News Network. “We determined that we should allow content categorized as abortion-related on healthcare requirements.”
Gorman said DoD is currently working its way through its networks to ensure the restriction is lifted uniformly. He added that the Pentagon will update its broader policy for “ensure consistency and access to appropriate information for the DoD workforce.”
The restrictions date back to 2010, when the Pentagon blocked the websites due to server bandwidth.
Under that policy, service members were unable to access sites like Planned Parenthood.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is promising to protect service members’ right to an abortion under federal law. That only pertains to “covered” abortions, meaning terminating pregnancies in cases of rape, incest or potential life threatening situations.
The Pentagon has released some guidance on the situation.
“Federal law restricts the department from performing abortions or paying to have them performed unless the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest,” Gilbert Cisneros, Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, wrote on June 28.
As of July 1, nine states have banned abortions and four are attempting to ban them, but are held up in court. Another four states are soon expected to ban abortions and another four have restricted abortions.
Some service members seeking abortions that are not covered by the military may have to travel hundreds of miles and pay thousands in out-of-pocket expenses to get the care they need.
Cisneros’ memo states service members can still take leave to find abortion care.
“Access to emergency convalescent leave remains unchanged for all service members,” he wrote. “DoD civilian employees may continue to request sick leave and other forms of leave as necessary to meet the health care needs of the employee and his or her family members.”
However, taking that leave can be complex. Service members must ask their commanders for time off, which can lead to privacy issues if leave requests need to be expedited.
Abortions remain rare in military medical treatment facilities. Only 91 have been performed in the last five years. That data does not include ectopic pregnancies, which would result in a miscarriage.