House Republicans Vote Against Life-Saving Abortions, Pride Flags at V.A. Facilities

While all eyes were on a federal courthouse in Miami this morning, House Republicans voted to prohibit offering life-saving abortion care to pregnant veterans — as well as to ban the pride flag from flying at Veterans Administration facilities.

The vote came in the powerful Appropriations Committee, where 34 Republicans outvoted 27 Democrats in a party line vote.

Back in September, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would provide abortions to veterans and V.A. beneficiaries (the family members of veterans, usually) if their life or health were jeopardized — services that would be offered even at facilities in states where abortion is banned. In April, six months after the rule went into effect, the VA reported that 34 individuals had been treated under the policy. That was 34 too many abortions for Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, who inserted language blocking the V.A. rule into the military construction budget for fiscal year 2024.

Besides blocking the V.A.’s life-saving abortion rule, the “anti-woke” amendment, as it was called by some committee members, prohibits diversity, equity, and inclusion training for V.A. personnel, prohibits funding for hormone therapies and other gender-affirming care for veterans, and bans the pride flag from being flown at V.A. facilities.

“I don’t know if you know it, but simply looking at a pride flag will not make you gay,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told his fellow committee members. Pocan, who is gay, went on to jokingly suggest some additional rules the Republicans could consider: “We should ban bunk beds in barracks. Think about it: Men, sleeping on top of — or the on bottom of — other men?”

“I get anti-woke, but at some point anti-woke is also anti-sane, and we look ridiculous,” Pocan said.

He went on to note that 65,000 active duty members of the military, and one million veterans, identify as LGBTQAI+. “We should be saying ‘Thank you,’ not ‘Get lost, hit the road, or just leave.’ That is the message every time we put this anti-wokeness into something that should be a very responsible [military construction] bill.”

Pocan was just one of a number of Democrats on the committee who took the opportunity to express their opposition to the amendment, which was offered by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas). Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz took the opportunity to point out the pride flag was designed by a veteran: Gilbert Baker, who served as a U.S. Army medic.

The vote — in the middle of pride month — comes amid a broader right-wing campaign against “wokeness in the military” that has resulted in, among other skirmishes, the cancellation of drag shows on military bases.

This bill, which is part of the broader negotiations around the 2024 defense budget, will be voted on in the House. The Senate will vote on its own version, and the two versions will be reconciled through a conference process. The amendment passed today is viewed as a poison pill that is unlikely to survive the conference process and be included in any budget passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“Anti-abortion lawmakers have taken every opportunity they can to attack abortion access, whether it be for military service members, whether it be for veterans, whether it be for anyone who is capable of pregnancy,” says Jackii Wang, senior legislative analyst at the National Women’s Law Center. “We just have to be on high alert, because it’s clear that they’re taking every angle that they can to ban abortion access entirely.”

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