Department of Defense and Abortion
Paul E Vallely, MG, US Army (Ret)
July 7, 2022
Department of Defense (DOD) said Wednesday that it will allow its networks to access abortion-related websites, permitting military and civilian personnel to access those sites on the agency’s computers.
“We continually evaluate the categorized content that is blocked on DOD networks,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Gorman told The Hill in an emailed statement.
“We determined that we should allow content categorized as abortion-related on healthcare requirements,” he added.
Gorman told The Hill that access to these sites was previously restricted due to bandwidth concerns.
“We are working our way through all DOD networks now to ensure that restriction is lifted uniformly,” he added. “Further, we are updating our broader policy to ensure consistency and access to appropriate information for the DoD workforce.”
The change, which was first reported by The Military Times, comes as the agency faces tough questions on how it will protect service members seeking abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.
Federal law prohibits the military from providing the service unless a pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if it endangers the life of the parent.
Last Tuesday, Gil Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, issued a memo saying that the high court’s action wouldn’t affect the agency’s ability to provide abortions.
Preserving and maintaining the health and welfare of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines is essential to ensure readiness of our Forces.
Abortion access is hitting an inflection point in the US, after the Supreme Court reversed a 50-year precedent in June and overruled Roe v. Wade. The decision means abortion access is no longer considered a constitutional right. At least a dozen states jumped on the court’s decision, enacting strict abortion restrictions and bans, with little to no exception.
The right to at least some abortions for female service members remains intact after the Dobbs decision, the Department of Defense said Tuesday. In a memo, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness said the services provided by the DoD prior to Friday’s bombshell ruling remained the same after, in line with existing federal law. The memo reads in part:
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our service members, the civilian workforce, and DoD families, and we are committed to taking care of all our people and ensuring the entire force remains ready and resilient. 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 (” covered abortions”). The Supreme Court decision does not prohibit the department from continuing to perform covered abortions, consistent with federal law. There will be no interruption to this care.”
Post-Dobbs, several states have said they will not allow abortions even in cases of rape and incest. In places where state law and DoD policy clash, the memo says the DoD stands by the Department of Justice’s long-standing position that “states generally may not impose criminal or civil liability on federal employees who perform their duties in a manner authorized by federal law.”
The memo did not explicitly address abortions not considered “covered.” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a brief statement on the day of the ruling that the Pentagon was “examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law.”
The DoD’s leave policy for abortion care also remains unchanged following Dobbs.
“Existing department policy authorizes active-duty service members to travel as necessary to receive abortion care. The travel may be government-funded, official travel for a covered abortion, or for all other cases, it may be undertaken as regular leave at the service member’s expense,” read a DoD news release summarizing the memo.
MEMO released by Department of Defense.
UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE Sat 4000 DEFENSE PENTAGON WASHINGTON, D.C. 20301-4000 2 JUN 28, 2022, REE MEMORANDUM FOR SENIOR PENTAGON LEADERSHIP DEFENSE AGENCY AND DOD FIELD ACTIVITY DIRECTORS SUBJECT: Ensuring Access to Essential Women’s Health Care Services for Service Members, Dependents, Beneficiaries, and Department of Defense Civilian Employees on Friday, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This decision will have significant implications for our Service members, dependents, other beneficiaries of DoD health care services, and civilian employees, as well as the readiness of the Force. As Secretary Austin has made clear, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our Servicemembers, the civilian workforce, and DoD families, and we are committed to taking care of all our people and ensuring that the entire Force remains ready and resilient. 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 (“covered abortions”). ‘The Supreme Court’s decision does not prohibit the Department from continuing to perform covered abortions, consistent with federal law. There will be no interruption to this care. Health care providers will continue to follow existing departmental policy, and the leadership of military medical treatment facilities will implement measures to ensure continued access to care. It is the Department of Justice’ longstanding position that States may not impose criminal or civil lability on federal employees who perform their duties in a manner authorized by federal law. We will work with the Department of Justice to ensure access to counsel for such civilian employees and Service members if needed and as appropriate. “The Supreme Court’s decision also does not affect the Department’ leave policies. Existing Department policy authorizes active duty Servicemembers to travel as necessary to receive abortion care —either as Government-funded, official travel fora covered abortion, or at the Servicemember’s own expense on regular leave for all other cases. Access to emergency or convalescent leave remains unchanged for all Service members. 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. Sick leave may be used to cover travel that is necessary to obtain any type of medical treatment. ‘The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are complicated and must be evaluated against various state laws, together with the views of the Department of Justice. We are reviewing our current policies and procedures and, along with the Secretaries of the Military Departments and the DoD Office of General Counsel, will assess the impact of DoD policies and State laws triggered by the Dobbs ruling on DoD personnel and beneficiaries. We will issue additional guidance as appropriate. As always, we will take every action within our authority to ensure the safety and health of each member of our team.
Military personnel will now be able to fully access the websites of abortion service providers from their government computers and email accounts after the Pentagon determined it should no longer include those sites as content it routinely blocks. “We determined that we should allow content categorized as abortion-related,” said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Gorman, a Pentagon spokesperson.
The Pentagon operates dozens of computer networks and access to various sites, including websites for abortion services providers, can vary depending on the server being used. Abortion sites were originally restricted in 2010 due to limits on server bandwidth, not government restrictions on abortions from military providers, Gorman said. “We are working our way through all DOD networks now to ensure that the restriction is lifted uniformly,” he added. “We are updating our broader policy to ensure consistency and access to appropriate information for the DOD workforce.”
Bandwidth limitations are no longer a driving issue, but access restrictions are still maintained on certain websites such as those involving pornography and illegal activities. The issue of not having full access to abortion services websites arose last month when the Military Times, a privately published newspaper, brought it to the attention of the Pentagon, Gorman said.
The Pentagon has been under pressure from some congressional Democrats to ensure military service members’ access to abortion is protected regardless of what state they are stationed in. In a recent letter to the Defense Department, some Senate Democrats are requesting the department outline a plan to guarantee that women seeking abortions in states where the procedure is severely restricted, or no longer legal, are given appropriate time off to travel out of state, guaranteed privacy protections and assured they will not be retaliated against for their decision.
For now, the Defense Department is continuing to abide by federal laws governing its abortion activities, which restricts abortions to those in which the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of
 The Hill Defense 7/6 2022
 Department of Defense 6 2 22022