The Department of Veterans Affairs will now provide abortions for veterans in life-threatening situations due to a pregnancy or in cases of rape and incest.
The agency made the announcement Friday, stating that the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, necessitated the VA’s action to provide abortions and abortion counseling.
The policy also protects VA healthcare providers from legal action in states where abortion is outlawed.
“This is a patient safety decision,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”
The change also puts VA healthcare more in line with the benefits provided by the Defense Department in delivering what are deemed “covered” abortions. Those abortions — in cases of medical necessity, rape or incest — are legal under the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortions.
“We came to this decision after listening to VA health care providers and veterans across the country, who sounded the alarm that abortion restrictions are creating a medical emergency for those we serve,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the VA’s undersecretary for health. “Offering this care will save Veterans’ health and lives, and there is nothing more important than that.”
The Biden administration has felt pressure from political allies to codify some abortions for veterans as some states have implemented or are considering implementing abortion bans.
In late July, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 22 other senators wrote a letter to McDonough urging the VA to start providing abortions.
“We contend that the VA has the statutory authority and discretion to provide abortions and abortion-related services and resources,” they wrote. “The VA must do everything in its power to provide critical reproductive care to veterans and their dependents across the country.”
The interim rule announcing the policy change stated that the VA did not identify why it didn’t provide abortions in the past.
“VA did not explain the rationale behind the exclusion of abortions and abortion counseling from the medical benefits package when it was established in 1999,” the rule states. “At the time, Roe had been reaffirmed in relevant part by Casey, and VA was aware that veterans of reproductive age enrolled in its health care system could access abortion services in their communities.”
Some lawmakers are already praising the VA’s decision.
“By allowing abortion counseling and furnishing abortions in the cases of incest, rape and to protect the life and health of the woman, VA will now be on par with all other federal healthcare programs,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.). “This is a strong first step, but more needs to be done. As the largest integrated healthcare network in the United States, VA has a responsibility to serve all veterans and their unique needs — something this committee has been continually advocating for and advancing under my leadership. That includes equitable and unrestricted access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, without exceptions.”