The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to offer abortions at its facilities for the first time in its history, including in states with near-total bans, over the objections of Republicans who said the move violates federal law.
The department announced Friday that it will begin providing abortions and abortion counseling to veterans as well as eligible civilian family members when the life or health of the pregnant patient is in danger, or in cases of rape or incest.
The services will become available after publication of the interim final rule, which was submitted Thursday to the Federal Register. The public has 30 days to comment.
“This is a patient safety decision,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “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 decision to put VA hospitals in the abortion business came despite warnings from Republicans and pro-life advocates that the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 prohibits the department from providing abortions.
Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, told Mr. McDonough in an Aug. 26 letter that the move would be “a direct violation of the laws you swore to uphold and follow.”
The senator tweeted Friday that the “VA isn’t an abortion clinic.”
“For 30 years, the law has been clear that the VA isn’t permitted to offer abortions,” Mr. Lankford said. “Instead of ignoring the law & promoting taking human life, the VA should respect the dignity of our veterans & their family members, including unborn children.”
Democrats have countered by citing the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, which says the VA secretary “shall furnish hospital care and medical services which the secretary determines to be needed.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, was among those who praised the department’s decision.
“Glad to see the @DeptVetAffairs quickly heeding the calls @SenWarren and I led to offer abortion services to veterans,” Ms. Hirono tweeted. “This is an important first step. The VA must go further and provide these services to all veterans, regardless of circumstances.”
The department said it sought to guarantee “abortion-related care anywhere in the country,” which would include states that prohibit abortion except in limited circumstances.
“VA employees, when working within the scope of their federal employment, may provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions,” the department said.
President Biden signed an executive order last month aimed at using federal resources to help women obtain abortions, including by traveling out of state, while Democrats and pro-choice advocates have urged him to go further by offering abortions on military bases and other federal sites.
Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life group Live Action, said the department “will start committing abortions, even in states where human life has been protected, and abortion made illegal.”
“This is a gravely immoral, unjust, and illegal move by the Biden Administration,” she tweeted.
An estimated 300,000 veterans are of childbearing age, and according to the department, they face “greater risk of experiencing pregnancy-related complications due to increased rates of chronic health conditions.”
“Therefore, to protect the life and health of pregnant veterans and eligible beneficiaries, VA determined that it was necessary to provide access to abortion counseling and — in some cases — abortions,” the Friday statement said.
The rule also would cover civilian beneficiaries enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs [CHAMPVA], which provides coverage to spouses and children of veterans who were disabled by or died of service-connected conditions.