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Senator warns VA that providing abortions to veterans and their families is illegal

department of veteran affairs
The sign in the front of the headquarters building at the Department of Veteran Affairs is seen as a man walks by in Washington, May 23, 2014. |

A United States senator is pushing back against a proposed policy from the Department of Veterans Affairs that he believes could lead to the government providing abortions to veterans and their families in violation of federal law.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., wrote a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough Friday, expressing concern about an interim final rule the agency submitted to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs pertaining to “Reproductive Health Services.” The VA submitted the interim final rule on Aug. 4.

“While the contents of the proposed IFR are not publicly available, this step forward in the regulatory process raises significant concern due to statements made by you and other officials within the VA asserting that the agency is seeking to provide abortion services to veterans and their families, despite it being prohibited under federal law,” he wrote.

Lankford cited statements made by McDonough during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on July 31 as a specific cause for concern.

Host Jake Tapper noted that more than two dozen Senate Democrats sent McDonough a letter urging him to make abortions available to the nearly 400,000 female veterans living in states likely or certain to ban abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. 

When asked if the VA would “take this measure and allow abortion services at VA hospitals even in states where abortion is banned,” McDonough vowed that “we’re going to make sure that they have access to the full slate of that care,” referring to “reproductive healthcare.”

Tapper followed up by asking if the VA would provide women with abortions in states where it is illegal or if the agency would “pay to fly them” elsewhere.

“We’re looking expressly at these questions about how we guarantee the life and the health of our women veterans, those 300,000 women who rely on us for their care,” he said. “We’re looking very closely at that to ensure that there’s no diminution in, no reduction of services to them.”

While McDonough declined to give specifics when pressed for more details, he said his "preference is that they not face risk to their lives as a result of this decision from the Court.” He added, “We’re going to make sure that we’re in a position to take care of them.”

Lankford told McDonough that “current federal law and regulation, however, contradicts these statements and prohibits the VA from providing abortion services.”

The Republican pointed to Section 106 of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, which declares that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may provide women with “general reproductive healthcare, including the management of menopause, but not including under this section infertility services, abortions, or pregnancy care.”

The 25 Democrats who wrote the letter to McDonough acknowledged that “current regulations of the VA prohibit the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from providing abortions and abortion counseling as part of the medical benefits package.” However, they insisted that the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 gives the VA Secretary the authority to “furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed” to certain veterans. 

“The VA must do everything in its power to provide critical reproductive care to veterans and their dependents across the country,” the lawmakers concluded. “We call on you to take swift decisive action to ensure all of our veterans … can access abortions and all abortion-related services.”

Lankford rejected the analysis of his colleagues, who account for half of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“While activists and even my colleagues in Congress — including some who have written to you to encourage you to promote abortions in states where unborn life is protected, such as Oklahoma - may desire for you to use your authority to usurp Congress to allow the VA to provide, or even pay for abortions through rulemaking, that would be a direct violation of the laws you swore to uphold and follow,” Lankford wrote.

“Such action would further erode the integrity of the rulemaking process. Abortion is not and will never be healthcare. Healthcare protects life. Abortion takes life. Instead of promoting the taking of human life, I would challenge you, and others within the VA, to respect the dignity of our veterans and all of their family members, including unborn children, by ensuring services provided and funded by the VA are focused on true healthcare.”

Since the Dobbs decision, more than a dozen states have banned or severely restricted abortion, although court rulings have prevented some bans from taking effect.

As documented by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, 14 states have enacted “total/near total limits on abortion,” while an additional six have similar bans in place that are tied up in legal challenges. 

Three states will soon have “total/near total limits on abortion,” while Florida has a 15-week abortion ban on the books. The remaining 27 states have “few or no limits on abortion” at this time. 

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

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