If a military service member or one of their dependents wants to get an abortion, but local laws prevent it, they will now be able to take up to three weeks of leave, with travel expenses fully paid, to have the operation elsewhere.
The new policies now being implemented by the Department of Defense were developed in the wake of abortion being outlawed in many states last year following a landmark Supreme Court decision. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the new policies to be developed in an October memo.
The travel expense policy states that troops will be granted allowances when “timely access” to reproductive health services, including abortions not covered by the military’s health insurance, is unavailable where they are deployed.
Twenty-one days of leave will be offered so that troops “can access care regardless of where they are stationed,” according to a memo attached to the leave policy. Most abortions are currently banned outright in 13 states, according to a tracker by the New York Times.
A senior defense official told Military Times that the policies accommodate service members and their families, who do not have the final say over whether they are assigned to a state with legal abortion.
“We strongly believe that these moves should not impact their access to essential health care,” the official said. “These policies that we’re releasing today will help ensure long-term that we’re able to recruit, retain and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”
Previously, the military had offered leave and travel expenses only for abortions covered by its health insurance, which are limited to cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life, Military Times reported.
The policies also offer leave and travel expenses if troops or their dependents need in vitro fertilization, sperm collection, or a selection of other reproductive services. The offering of 21 days of leave is intended to allow for the completion of a full IVF cycle, according to a senior defense official.
The leave policy urges commanders to respond objectively and promptly to requests, adding that delays in granting leave should not result in troops being unable to access the care they needed in the first place.