The Pentagon will allow service members up to three weeks of leave to travel for abortions and other noncovered reproductive health care, according to a slate of new policies announced on Thursday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin first announced in October that the Defense Department would provide leave to and reimburse service members for travel required to access reproductive health care. The three policies released on Thursday provide additional details and guidance on how these directives will function.
Service members can take up to 21 days of leave to receive or accompany a military spouse or dependent to receive noncovered reproductive health care, which includes abortions and assisted reproductive technology.
However, they are limited to the minimum number of days required to receive care and travel in the “most expeditious means” possible. Reimbursements are similarly limited to the costs associated with traveling to the closest available medical facility that provides the procedure.
Commanders and other authorities are urged to grant the requests for leave, unless it interferes with the “proper execution of the military mission,” and act promptly and with discretion given the time-sensitive nature of the reproductive services.
“Commanders or approval authorities are expected to display objectivity, compassion, and discretion when addressing all health care matters, including reproductive health care matters, and have a duty to enforce existing policies against discrimination and retaliation in the context of reproductive health care choices,” the policy noted.
They also cannot require service members to complete additional obligations, such as meeting with religious advisers or other counselors and undergoing medical testing, in order to receive their approval.
The new policies come in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June. As some states crack down on abortion access, service members and their families may be stationed in locations where the procedure is no longer allowed.
“The practical effects of recent changes are that significant numbers of Service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work, and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care,” Austin said in his October memo.
“In my judgment, such effects qualify as unusual, extraordinary, hardship, or emergency circumstances for Service members and their dependents and will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force,” he added.