Air National Guard commander resigns in protest of Biden's abortion travel policy

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

The governor of Arkansas is urging the Biden administration to end its policy of paying the travel expenses of service members who go out-of-state to obtain abortions after a high-ranking military official stepped down from his post in protest. 

In a letter sent to President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin Tuesday, Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained how former Commander of the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard Colonel Dillon Patterson resigned from his position on Dec. 18. Her letter elaborated on the reasons for his resignation and pointed the finger directly at a federal government policy.

“Unfortunately, Col. Patterson was forced to personally choose between either continuing his command or adhering to his sincerely held religious beliefs against abortion,” she wrote. “Because he adhered first to his faith instead of overtly political mandates, he voluntarily resigned his command.”

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The “overtly political” mandate Sanders was referring to is a Department of Defense policy that involves “using taxpayer dollars to fund the travel, meals, and lodging, associated with out-of-state servicemember travel for procurement of an abortion procedure.” Sanders also noted that “maybe equally as egregious, the DoD now requires that commanding officers — regardless of any sincere and deeply held religious convictions to the contrary — are forced to approve such abortion leave.”

Sanders lamented that Patterson found himself forced to resign because he was “a man of conviction led by senior Department of Defense leadership who had disregarded his service and abandoned his most fundamental constitutional rights in favor of more fashionable political and social experiments.” She concluded her letter by urging the Biden administration to “rescind this policy immediately.”

As Sanders pointed out in her letter, the establishment of the abortion travel policy followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which determined that the U.S. Constitution does not contain a right to abortion. Following the Dobbs ruling, two dozen states, including Arkansas, enacted pro-life protections that either restricted abortion to the first trimester or banned the procedure altogether.

In Arkansas’ case, the state implemented a near-total abortion ban. The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America estimates that Arkansas’ pro-life protections will save 3,133 babies from abortion on an annual basis. 

The Department of Defense’s abortion travel policy is designed to enable female service members living in states with strong pro-life protections to travel to states that allow abortion through the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. In the October 2022 memo unveiling the policy, Austin insisted it was necessary to assuage concerns about his department’s ability to “recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”

For her part, Sanders insisted that the Biden administration's abortion travel policy is one of the factor's hindering the Department of Defense’s ability to “recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”

Sanders added: “At a time when nearly every military branch has failed to meet recruiting thresholds, it is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible and short-sighted bureaucratic mandate. As relevant here, nationally, the Air National Guard missed its most recent recruiting goals by a shocking 40%.”

Sanders isn't the only Republican elected official to call on the Pentagon to abandon its abortion travel policy. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., held up military promotions for nine months in protest of the policy and continues to block high-ranking appointments.

In a 221-213 vote last summer, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Department of Defense’s funding bill for fiscal year 2024 that would nullify the policy. However, the amendment did not make it into the final version of the bill after going through the Democrat-controlled Senate and reaching Biden’s desk. 

In addition to the Pentagon policy of paying the travel expenses for female service members seeking to obtain abortions out of state, the Biden administration has authorized the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to perform abortions at hospitals maintained by the government agency in cases where a “health care professional” determines that “the life or the health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term or the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”

The VA's policy has the effect of circumventing statewide bans on abortions by allowing hospitals in states with such laws to perform the procedure in some cases.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., insisted that performing abortions at the VA ran afoul of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 that authorizes VA hospitals to provide “general reproductive healthcare” specifically excluding abortions, but the Biden administration implemented the policy anyway. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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