Tuberville Demands Answers from the Pentagon

“Since the policy’s implementation and despite my numerous requests, DoD has refused to provide basic information.”

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Lloyd Austin once again demanding answers on their illegal policy to pay for travel and leave for service members and their dependents seeking elective abortions. Senator Tuberville’s letter comes after a closed-door briefing from the Department of Defense staff regarding the abortion policy left Senator Tuberville with more questions than answers and all but confirmed that implementation of this new policy was politically driven and not based on the facts or analysis. 

In February, Senator Tuberville placed a “hold” on all general and flag officer nominations over the department’s new policy of funding travel and additional paid time off for service members and their dependents seeking an elective abortion. The hold simply requires military nominations and promotions to be processed through regular order rather than being approved by unanimous consent in large batches. In keeping with the pledge made to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last December, Senator Tuberville has blocked twelve attempts by Senate Democrats to confirm senior military promotions by unanimous consent.

Support for Senator Tuberville’s stance for the rule of law and the unborn has continued to grow as members of Congress and conservative leaders have backed Coach’s position. Over 5,000 veterans have also sent a letter voicing their support for Senator Tuberville’s decision to place a hold on Pentagon general and flag officer promotions to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

You can read the full text of Tuberville’s most recent letter to Secretary Austin here and below.

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III

U.S. Department of Defense

1300 Defense Pentagon

Washington D.C. 20301-1300

Secretary Austin: 

On February 16, 2023, the Department of Defense (DoD) released new policy regarding administrative absence for non-covered reproductive health care, a political decision driven primarily by this administration’s desire to increas access to elective abortion. The new policy grants eligible service members additional leave (up to 21 days) and travel expense reimbursements in order to obtain abortions which fall outside the statutory limitations of 10 U.S.C. § 1093. Upon issuance of this policy, I carried out my previously stated intent to place a hold on all general and flag officers. 

Since the policy’s implementation and despite my numerous requests, the DoD has refused to provide basic information on the utilization of this policy, such as the budget from which it will draw funds necessary to cover this travel. In fact, the DoD recently provided a briefing for members of the Senate Armed Services Committee which failed to deliver any new information, and frankly, raised more questions than answers. I remain strongly opposed to this immoral policy, and believe its development and implementation run afoul of legal authority granted to the executive branch.

Given the DoD’s failure to adequately explain a rationale for the decision to implement this policy, and lack of due diligence in determining how it will impact force readiness, I request that your office submit answers to the following questions by no later than September 1, 2023:

  1. Since the policy’s implementation, how many service members have used the “Administrative Absence for Non-covered Reproductive Health Care” policy to receive the additional leave and/or travel expense reimbursements for abortion?
  1. How many days of additional leave have been granted for abortion as a result of the policy?
  1. Since implementation, what is the total cost DoD has incurred due to paying travel expenses associated with this policy?
  1. Does this policy entitle reimbursement for travel expenses and additional time off, beyond what is already prescribed by law, for servicemembers or their dependents who chose to give birth?
  1. Other than the “non-covered reproductive services” which fall under this new policy, for what medical services does DoD reimburse all travel expenses and provide an additional 21 days of non-chargeable paid time off?
  1. Please provide a copy of the RAND Corporation survey from September 2022 which the DoD referenced during a December 7, 2022, briefing provided to my staff.
  1. Please provide a copy of any other resources and analysis conducted and relied on by DoD in carrying out the Secretary’s directives under the October 20, 2022 memo entitled “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, there were approximately 863 Active Duty general/flag officers as of September 2022. The Pentagon estimates that my “hold” on promotions being passed by unanimous consent could impact approximately 650 nominations by the end of the year. This would amount to roughly 75% of all Active Duty general/flag officers. 

  1. What is the average number of general/flag officers each year, by year, for the prior 10 years?
  1. What is the total number of general/flag officers nominated from the DoD each year, by year, for the prior 10 years?  Of that number, how many of these nominations are for promotion?
  1. How many of these nominations are for appointing a general officer to remain in the same grade but to take a new post?
  1. During the past 10 years, what is the average time in grade post promotion of general/flag officers at the following ranks: O-7, O-8, O-9, O-10?
  1. Please provide the number of occurrences in the past 10 years when a general/flag officer has skipped a rank. (For example, a Brigadier General being promoted to Lieutenant General).
  1. During the past 10 years, what is the rate of retirement for general/flag officers, by rank, at the following ranks: O-7, O-8, O-9, O-10? (For example, how many officers retire at the rank of Brigadier General? How many retire at the rank of Major General?)


Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, the Department of Defense claimed in a memorandum that the ruling would “have significant implications for…the readiness of the Force,” but provided no evidence to support this conclusion. On July 15, 2022, Senator Tuberville and Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) sent a letter calling on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to justify the assertion. The letter went unanswered.

On October 20, 2022, Secretary Austin released another memorandum entitled “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care.”  The memo outlined the Department of Defense’s intent to develop policy, procedures, and programs to expand taxpayer-subsided abortion in the military beyond what is currently allowed under federal law

On November 28, 2022, Senator Tuberville and his Republican SASC colleagues sent an additional letter to Secretary Austin asking him to explain the October memo and the Department of Defense’s justification for the potential expansion of its abortion policy. In the letter, the senators warned, “The Department’s actions send the implicit message to our service members that pregnancy is a liability to the force and our military’s success hinges on access to abortion. This is an egregious mistake.” Again, the letter went unanswered.

The Department of Defense finally scheduled a briefing for Senate offices on November 17, 2022, about the Department’s memorandums and potential policy changes. However, the briefing was abruptly canceled. In response, on December 5, 2022, Senator Tuberville placed a hold on DoD nominations until the Pentagon rescheduled the canceled briefing and responded to questions about the military’s memos on reproductive care.  

Within 24 hours, the DoD rescheduled the staff briefing, and it occurred on December 7, 2022. During the rescheduled briefing for members of Senator Tuberville’s staff, Department of Defense officials revealed their intent to announce a new policy that would cover travel and leave for service members and their dependents seeking abortions. Following the briefing, on December 9, 2022, Senator Tuberville notified Secretary Austin that he would place an additional hold on Department of Defense nominees if the Department implemented its abortion plan, which Senator Tuberville believes is illegal.

The department’s authority to fund abortions is governed by 10 U.S.C. 1093, which limits abortions to cases of rape, incest, or pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother. These rules apply to both service members and their spouses and dependents. Given this provision, the Department of Defense has averaged fewer than 20 abortions per year, with 91 abortions at military facilities occurring between 2016 and 2021. According to a third-party study cited by officials, the number of abortions subsidized by the Department of Defense under the new policy could increase to 4,100 annually — 205 times the number of abortions performed in recent years.

Without responding to Senator Tuberville’s pledge, Secretary Austin released another memorandum on February 16, 2023 announcing  the formal implementation of the abortion policy to fund travel and paid time off for service members and their dependents seeking an abortion, despite existing law.

On March 8, 2023, Senator Tuberville followed through with his pledge to hold all general and flag officer nominations on the Senate floor. Senator Tuberville has defended his hold on the Senate floor twelve times. 

Senator Tuberville’s hold forces the Senate to consider and vote on the nominations by regular order instead of approving them in batches by unanimous consent, which can be considerably faster. The nominations can still be approved by the Senate, but the Majority Leader must make additional time for them to be considered on the floor.

Contrary to claims by Democrats, Senator Tuberville’s hold is not unprecedented. The tactic has been threatened and used by senators from both parties for decades. Just a few weeks ago, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) threatened to hold Pentagon nominees because he was upset his home state lost a competition to house U.S. Space Command headquarters — to Alabama. Despite what Senator Bennet has said on the Senate floor, this hold would have affected six nominees.

Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.