More than 80 Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill on Friday that would allow military medical facilities to perform and pay for abortions for service members and dependents, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health, or MARCH, for Military Servicemembers Act would ensure that abortion remains available to women stationed in the more than two dozen states expected to ban the procedure if the Supreme Court sweeps away Americans’ right to it.
“The fallout for our servicemembers and their families will be catastrophic, as is the threat to our military readiness, morale, and unit cohesion,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “Abortion care isn’t a privilege, it is standard health care essential to one’s ability to determine their own destiny….Our brave servicemembers deserve the same access to basic health care as the people they are fighting to protect.”
Last month, Politico reported that the Supreme Court had voted to overturn Roe v. Wade in a draft decision. Even though the final decision could change, advocates immediately called on Congress to protect the reproductive rights of service members, who have little control over whether they are stationed in a state that will ban the procedure.
The bill has only a narrow path to success. While Democrats have a 12-seat advantage in the House, the Senate is evenly divided with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Vice President Kamala Harris could cast the deciding vote, giving Democrats the advantage if a vote broke down along party lines, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has already broken with his party on the issue, voting against an effort in May to protect abortion rights in federal law.
The bill is led by leaders of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and the Pro-Choice Caucus, including Speier; Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.; Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich.; Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, N.Y.; Jeanne Shaheen, N.H., and Richard Blumental, Conn., will introduce a companion bill in the Senate, according to a press release.
Women in the military already face more restrictions accessing abortions than their civilian counterparts. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, military medical facilities cannot perform most abortions, nor can Tricare cover the cost of the procedure in private facilities, except in cases of rape, incest, and elevated risk to the woman’s life.
The bill introduced Friday would repeal the amendment—specifically, Section 1093 of U.S. Code 10.
“Reproductive rights cannot and should not end when you put on our nation’s uniform,” Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Many of the states poised to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade have large military bases, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio. If abortion laws can vary state to state, the reproductive rights of female troops would depend on where they are stationed, something in which service members have little say. If a woman from New York, where abortion is expected to remain legal, joins the military and is stationed in Florida, her access to healthcare will be limited by her decision to join the military.
“They did not choose to live in that state. They chose to volunteer to sacrifice themselves for their country, but they didn’t volunteer to sacrifice their reproductive rights,” Rachel VanLandingham, a former Air Force judge advocate who is now a professor at Southwestern Law School, has told Defense One. “It’s something that men in the military don’t have to sacrifice. Why should women?”
Women who are stationed in states where abortion is banned would need to overcome hurdles to access the procedure in a state where it is legal, including getting leave approved, traveling to another state, paying for the abortion out of pocket, and potentially having to pay for other costs like a hotel stay.
It’s also unclear whether military personnel could be punished for helping a fellow servicemember obtain an abortion. In Missouri, for example, a state lawmaker introduced a bill that would allow anyone to sue a person helping a woman cross state lines to access the procedure. If a commander granted leave, or someone helped a service member pay to fly to a state where abortions are legal, it is possible that they could be punished under local law, VanLandingham said.