WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) spoke by phone with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. During the call, the secretary and the senator discussed Senator Tuberville’s hold on Department of Defense civilian and flag officer nominations. Senator Tuberville reiterated that he will maintain his hold on the nominations unless the secretary rescinds or suspends his newly-implemented policy facilitating taxpayer-funded abortions for the military and their family members. Senator Tuberville also reiterated his desire to see this issue debated in Congress. The senator also raised his concerns about the military’s recent difficulties in recruiting. The two leaders agreed to work together to improve recruitment.
Secretary Austin is scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, March 28.
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 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 outlining the Department’s intent to develop policy, procedures, and programs to expand taxpayer-subsided abortion in the military beyond what is allowed under federal statute.
10 U.S.C. 1093 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.
On November 28, 2022, Senator Tuberville and his Republican Senate Armed Services Committee 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. 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.
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 this abortion plan, which goes even further beyond what is allowed in statute.
On February 16, 2023, Secretary Austin released another memorandum, this one announcing the formal implementation of the abortion policy to fund travel and paid time off for service members and their dependents seeking an abortion.
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’s hold forces the Senate to consider and vote on the nominations by regular order instead of approving them in batches by unanimous consent. 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.
In recent years, 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, the number of abortions subsidized by the Department of Defense under the new policy could increase to 4,100 annually —a 205-fold increase.
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.