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Republicans seeking to block Pentagon from funding abortion travel via defense bill

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Republican lawmakers are drafting an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill to block the Pentagon's new policy of funding abortion travel for its employees who must travel out of state to receive an abortion.

On Oct. 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent a memorandum to senior Pentagon leadership, announcing that the department will reimburse the travel expenses of service members traveling out-of-state to obtain an abortion.

Austin claimed the new policy is necessary following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, finding that the U.S. Constitution doesn't contain a right to abortion. After the court's ruling, which struck down the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade, several states banned or severely restricted abortion.

The memorandum received pushback from Republican lawmakers, with at least one drafting an amendment to the 2023 defense spending package to block the department's abortion travel policy. 

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, said in an Oct. 24 tweet that he couldn't believe the department is considering using tax dollars to "improperly" fund abortion travel.  

"I've drafted a [National Defense Authorization Act] amendment to put a stop to this," Marshall, an OB-GYN, added. "With all of the challenges we face globally, DoD needs to make our national security their top priority. Sen. [Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer must allow for a robust amendment process when the Senate returns so we can vote to block this outrageous memorandum."

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, also insists that the new Department of Defense policy "must be blocked."

"I am deeply disappointed that the Department of Defense has allowed President [Joe] Biden to blatantly misuse the United States military for political purposes," Rogers said in a statement. "Yesterday's memo from DoD, released nearly two weeks before the election, is a desperate campaign tactic that undermines the core mission of our military."

Rogers demands "answers from the Department of Defense on how this memo came to be."

"[T]axpayer dollars meant for deterring China and other adversaries should not be squandered on campaign politics," Rogers said. "DoD must be blocked from wasting any portion of their budget on this horrendous policy."

While Rogers didn't explicitly identify the National Defense Authorization Act as the vehicle of choice to torpedo the new abortion travel policy, Marshall's tweet suggests Republicans concerned about the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion travel see an amendment to the spending package as the most effective way to do so. 

The nearly 3,900-page bill, which "[authorizes] appropriations for fiscal year 2023 for military activities of the Department of Defense and for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy," has already been approved by the House in a bipartisan vote.

However, the measure must still secure the approval of the evenly divided U.S. Senate before becoming law. The amendment to block the Department of Defense abortion policy hasn't been introduced. However, Politico reports that Republicans could push for a vote when lawmakers return following the Nov. 8 midterm elections. 

The NDAA passed the House on July 28, nearly three months before the Pentagon unveiled its abortion travel policy. Should the bill pass the Senate with or without Marshall's suggested amendment, the two chambers must reconcile the differences between their respective bills before the package can go to the president's desk for final approval. 

The Senate currently has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats. An amendment blocking the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion travel would require the support of all Senate Republicans and at least one Senate Democrat to become part of the bill. 

The Democrats maintain a narrow majority in the House, meaning that at least a small number of Democrats would have to support the NDAA if the Senate version includes an amendment blocking the Defense Department's abortion travel policy.

Biden, who has made abortion access an issue of focus during his presidency, may elect not to sign the bill if it includes the amendment when it reaches his desk. 

The U.S. Congress will convene for a "lame duck" session following the midterms, with debate about the NDAA expected to occur at this time.

A continuing resolution that funds the government at existing levels is set to expire on Dec. 16. 

Should Congress fail to reach an agreement regarding the NDAA or if Biden refuses to sign it, a partial government shutdown may commence unless Congress decides to pass another short-term continuing resolution funding the government at existing levels to avert a government shutdown. 

The department implemented the abortion travel policy less than three weeks before the midterm elections will determine which party controls Congress for the next two years.

The FiveThirtyEight Deluxe Model, which predicts the outcome of elections based on "polls, fundraising, past voting patterns" and the opinions of political experts, gives Republicans an 81% chance of taking control of the House while giving Democrats a 51% chance of keeping control of the Senate. 

Republican majorities in one or both houses of Congress could give opponents of the abortion travel policy more leverage to block it in the form of amendments to a future version of the NDAA or other legislative initiatives.

However, Biden would still have the final say on what legislation becomes law in a Republican-controlled Congress. Disagreements between pro-life lawmakers and the pro-abortion administration on the abortion travel policy and other abortion-related issues look likely to persist for the foreseeable future. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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