House Republicans overseeing the Veterans Affairs Committee are threatening to subpoena the Department of Veterans Affairs (or the VA) for more comprehensive data on abortions the department provided in the last year. The VA implemented a policy after the fall of Roe v. Wade to provide abortions to veterans in select cases. In a letter obtained by Military.com this week, committee Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), who chairs the committee’s health sub-committee, call out the VA for offering abortions in cases when veterans suffered from mental but not physical health concerns—thereby overstepping the purview of the VA abortion policy, in their view. This, even as veterans struggle with PTSD and other mental conditions.
The VA’s policy, implemented in September 2022, offers abortion services to veterans who are impregnated by rape or in cases when the life or health of the mother is endangered by pregnancy. (The VA says this is in accordance with the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from covering abortion except in the aforementioned emergency cases.) Shortly after, Republicans on the House VA Committee requested detailed data on abortions provided by the VA on a quarterly basis, which they say the VA has failed to hand over. The VA holds that providing this data would violate veterans’ privacy and even allow the committee to identify individual abortion seekers, per Military.com’s reporting.
In their letter to the VA this week, Bost and Miller-Meeks threaten to subpoena the department for the data should they not provide it by Sept. 30, asserting that “the American taxpayers funding these abortion procedures at VA deserve to know” how the policy is being implemented. The letter concedes that “a woman veteran with chronic conditions may require additional monitoring during pregnancy,” but says this “shouldn’t immediately qualify her for an abortion.” Bost and Miller-Meeks then question whether abortions are being provided to people suffering from mental but not physical health conditions: “Further, it is extremely disconcerting that a veteran may qualify for an abortion due to mental health concerns, and yet that veteran is not required to undergo any mental health evaluation or treatment prior to, or in the aftermath of, an abortion.”
House Republicans seem to be levying an accusation that the VA is inappropriately offering abortions for mental health-related cases. They also seem to be insinuating that having an abortion negatively impacts someone’s mental health, when research has shown that being denied an abortion can have immediate negative impacts on someone’s mental health. A report from CDC last September showed mental health conditions including suicide and substance use became a leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the period between 2017 and 2019. Veterans are also vulnerable to struggles with PTSD, depression, and substance use disorders.
No one should have to meet narrow, arbitrary criteria validating some “emergencies” but not others in order to have an abortion. But if these criteria exist, they should certainly include mental health and psychiatric crises. Yet several state abortion bans exclude such cases: A Georgia lawmaker behind the state’s ban last year told AP that “a claim of stress or mental anguish just doesn’t rise to the level” of medical emergency to receive an abortion, while the anti-abortion activist who wrote Alabama’s ban included a mental health exception only for suicidal pregnant individuals as diagnosed by psychiatrists, per the AP.
The VA previously shared abortion-related data from the period between last September through this April, per Military.com. According to the report, the department provided 54 abortions: 44 arose from cases of threats to the health of the pregnant person, two arose from cases in which the mother’s life was at risk, and eight stemmed from rape-induced pregnancies. (Given high rates of rape within the military, the VA’s policy of providing abortions for rape-related pregnancies carries particular urgency.)
These two House Republicans’ threat over the VA’s abortion policy comes as, in the Senate, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has been throwing a national security-threatening tantrum over the Department of Defense’s abortion policy. Since March, the military has covered costs of abortion care and abortion-related travel for military members, some of whom are required to live on bases in states that ban abortion. In retaliation, Tuberville has blocked promotions for some 300 military members, claiming the military’s policy is somehow undemocratic and “communist” because Congress didn’t vote on it, though departments in the executive branch establish their own internal policies all the time.
This uproar from Republicans in Congress over abortion policy within the military—hardly a bastion for progressive ideals—truly encapsulates how deep the party’s rot on this issue goes.