In a protest over what he said would be an expansion of access to abortions in the military, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Friday said he would place a hold on all Department of Defense nominations if the new policies go into effect.
Tuberville announced his intention in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
It’s the latest step in a series of objections from Republicans over methods to circumvent, they say, new restrictions on abortions with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tuberville said members of his staff met Wednesday with defense department officials revealed that the department was considering institution of a policy, originally announced in October, by the end of the year to provide travel and leave expenses for military personnel and their dependents to receive abortions. Federal law allows the defense department to provide funds for abortions only when the mother’s life is endangered.
The defense department said in October it is considering expanding providing funding for travel and paid time off to accommodate military personnel stationed in states, such as Alabama, that have restricted access to abortion in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. Military Times reported about 80,000 female, active duty service members fall into that category.
The Friday letter by Tuberville, a member of the Senate Armed Forces committee, said that abortions for military personnel would increase by as many as 4,100 per year, citing a RAND Corporation study. The RAND estimate does not include abortions for military dependents. The defense department has not provided an estimate on the number of abortions that would be performed if the policy went into effect, Tuberville said.
In a press release accompanying the letter, Tuberville said 91 abortions were performed at Department of Defense facilities from 2016-2021.
“It is my conviction that this proposed policy change is illegal, circumvents Congress and exceeds your authority,” Tuberville’s letter to Austin said.
The placing of a hold on nominees is designed to slow or stop the confirmation process of an administration’s appointments.
“When questioned on these issues, the department could not provide analysis or estimates of how this policy change will impact its budget, readiness and manpower,” Tuberville’s letter said. “It is irresponsible to push forward with such a controversial change to department policy without thorough due diligence on how this will impact the readiness of the force.”
Earlier this week, Tuberville had said he would place a hold on nominations after the defense department canceled a meeting on plans to expand access to abortion. Tuberville lifted his threat of a hold after the meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday, then reiterated his plans following the result of the meeting.