The VA is mired in tense territory with a new rule that essentially makes the agency an abortion provider, facing the wrath of Republican lawmakers and potential legal challenges.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has already begun offering abortions to pregnant veterans and recipients of victim assistance in limited circumstances set out in the rule, which took effect when it was published September 9.
The historic rule soon raised questions about the infrastructure to handle the demand, and the legal consequences of performing services in red states where abortion is banned or severely restricted.
But the Department of Veterans Affairs has shown no signs of backing away from its regulations — which it says will cover about 1,000 abortions a year — and its advocates hail them as a major step forward in veterans’ health care.
“The reality is that female veterans did not have access to the same reproductive care that Medicaid patients had, for example, before victim assistance measures were taken,” said Alison Gaslow, an Iraq War veteran who co-founded Operation Liberty. .
“In my view, the fact that female veterans now have equal access to care is a very important step forward, not just in Roe v. Wade. The Term of War Veterans,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Republicans have questioned the base’s legitimacy and promised to give the department a hard time if the GOP regains control of Congress in the fall.
Representative Mike Post (R-Illinois), the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, argued at a September 15 hearing that the law violated the 1992 Veterans Health Care Act, which essentially prohibits the agency from providing abortions. He added that he was working with colleagues in the House and Senate to punish the VA for the rule.
“Following the law is not an option, it is a requirement. By ignoring the law, VA is violating the wishes and values of millions of Americans who don’t want to use their tax dollars to pay for abortions in the VA or anywhere else,” Post said during the hearing.
But the committee chair, Representative Mark Takano (D-Calif.), responded by saying that the 1992 law had been replaced by the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, which tasked the agency with developing a national registration system to manage health service delivery. care services. This law did not expressly provide for the exclusion of abortion services from the previous law.
The VA provides services to more than 300,000 veterans of childbearing age. She currently provides reproductive health services such as birth control, infertility, IVF treatments and maternity care.
The VA abortion rule applies to veterans enrolled in VA health care, as well as those enrolled in the Civil Health and Medicine Program (CHAMPVA), which covers the surviving spouse or children of disabled or deceased veterans.
The rule allows abortion for those who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the “life and health” of the person seeking the abortion.
However, questions remain about how to interpret ‘health’.
Lindsey Church, an abortion rights advocate and president of America’s Minority Veterans of America, told The Hill she did not support a policy of “exceptions” when it comes to reproductive rights, but praised the inclusion of “health” in the final rule.
“When that was announced, I think there’s a bit of optimism in the way their definition including health is written, and you don’t just have to be in dire straits to be able to get care,” Church said.
Lori Viner, a retired Air Force veteran and director of government relations for the Women’s Action Network (SWAN), said reproductive rights organizations would have liked to see the base go further.
“But this is a very big step for this organization that hasn’t been doing this before, and they are going to have to build some infrastructure and hire more providers in an exotic environment,” she said.
Sean Timmons, managing partner at law firm Tulley Rinckey PLLC, interpreted maternal “health” as a possible term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to broaden the range of who can obtain abortions.
“I understand trying to confine it to health,” he said, “but I think describing health means that the individual is asking for that procedure because it will be the service that will help with his health.” “So, I don’t see that as a limitation.”
VA officials said it is up to veterans and doctors to determine if health is at risk on a case-by-case basis.
Another pressing question is how the VA’s ability to perform abortions conflicts with state laws limiting procedures, enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Department of Justice has already given its seal of approval, stating that the rule is a “legal exercise” of the power to assist veterans, and that states cannot penalize Department employees who provide abortions according to the rule.
But Timmons said that likely wouldn’t protect the Department of Veterans Affairs from facing politically motivated lawsuits from states more aggressive in curbing abortion.
“I don’t know how much merit it will have, but I know they will do it for a press release, or at least a fundraiser,” he added.
But concern about negative reactions in these countries extends well beyond the legal realm.
“When you have states that have those strict laws, we have to think about protests, we have to think about the people who are going to be waiting outside the facilities,” said Deshauna Barber, an Army veteran and executive director of SWAN.
“So I think there are measures that need to be in place to protect and support these veterans and countries where there are severe restrictions on reproductive care,” she added.
The anti-abortion group Students for Life said it had launched a nationwide campaign to flood the agency with comments opposed to the rule.
“The Biden administration proves once again that the specter of a safe, legal, and rare abortion policy is the past, while illegal, immoral, and unlimited abortion is their current obsession,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said in a statement.
The National Right to Life also criticized the move as an insult to federalism, with its president, Carol Tobias, saying, “The Biden administration has made every effort to encourage and pay for on-demand abortions using taxpayer money.”
Operation Liberty’s Gaslow said VA will also face administrative “hurdles” that come with rolling out a new initiative in a massive bureaucracy, and the challenge of getting staff at health care centers ready for the divisive decision.
VA leaders said they are ready to meet the challenges. Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough said the department is working to bolster security at VA facilities — and is trying to avoid abortion policies.
“I don’t want to get myself ahead of what’s going to happen, in terms of politics — I wasn’t very good at politics when I was the White House chief of staff, I can guarantee you,” McDonough said at a media roundtable on September 26.
“Our job is to keep our heads down, do the work, and make sure the work gets done well. That’s what we intend to do, and I have every expectation that this is what we will do – the rest of it will work itself out.”