Pentagon report: Military has performed 91 abortions at its facilities since 2016

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WASHINGTON – The military performed 91 abortions at its treatment facilities from 2016 through 2021, according to newly released documents from the Pentagon.

The procedure, authorized in the military only in cases of rape, incest or health of the mother, could face further restriction at some of the military's largest bases after the Supreme Court's decision Friday to eliminate the constitutional guarantee to abortion. The Pentagon's report, obtained by USA TODAY, is sent to oversight committees in Congress.

Across the South and Plains after the court's decision, abortion will be banned or made more difficult to access, a USA TODAY review of laws in each state found. The decision is expected to affect troops serving in those states. For instance, Texas, home to the Army's Fort Hood and its 40,000 soldiers, has a trigger law that will ban abortion except in rare cases 30 days after the court's decision.

The figures released by the Pentagon show how rarely the military's health clinics perform abortions. There were:

  • 14 abortions in 2016

  • 11 in 2017

  • 21 in 2018

  • 15 in 2019

  • 16 in 2020

  • 14 in 2021

There are 1.3 million troops in the active-duty military, and 2.1 million total when reserve components are added.

The Pentagon's figures do not identify how many service members had abortions, or if any were family members covered by the military health care system. The Rand Corp. think tank found in 2018 that women service members had a slightly higher rate of unintended pregnancies than their civilian peers.

Pentagon memo: Abortion will continue per guidelines

On Tuesday, the Pentagon issued a memo to senior leadership stating that the court's decision will not prevent it from performing abortions under the current restrictions of rape, incest or mother's health.

"There will be no interruption to this care," according to the memo signed by Gilbert Cisneros, the Pentagon's chief personnel officer.

A key portion of the memo states that personnel performing abortions in states that ban the procedure are generally not subject to prosecution by local authorities, indicating that abortions could continue at bases in states with bans.

Moreover, the decision does not affect Pentagon policy on leave that allows active-duty troops to travel as needed for abortion care, the memo says. The Pentagon will continue to review the decision and state laws to determine how they might affect the abortion policy.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee's personnel panel, has proposed legislation that would repeal the restrictions on funding and performing abortions in a military setting. More than 70 House members have signed on in support of the measure.

"The fallout from Friday’s extreme and purely politically-driven ruling is almost impossible to calculate, but we know it poses a serious threat to our military readiness, as well as potentially criminalizing our brave servicemembers and any providers who deign to help them,” Speier said Tuesda

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., listens at Longworth House Office Building on Dec. 9, 2021, in Washington. Speier chairs the House Armed Services Committee's personnel panel. She has proposed legislation that would repeal the restrictions on funding and performing abortions in a military setting.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., listens at Longworth House Office Building on Dec. 9, 2021, in Washington. Speier chairs the House Armed Services Committee's personnel panel. She has proposed legislation that would repeal the restrictions on funding and performing abortions in a military setting.

Erin Kirk, a former Marine who obtained medication to prevent a pregnancy after being sexually assaulted in 2007, is petitioning the Pentagon to ensure troops have access to reproductive health care. Kirk, who co-founded Not In My Marine Corps to combat sexual harassment and assault in the ranks, said she supports Speier's legislation.

"Without the protections affirmed in Roe v. Wade, abortion will become increasingly difficult for service members, survivors, and their families to access and many will be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will," according to the letter Kirk is sending to the White House, Pentagon and Congress.

In a statement Friday after the court's decision, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was committed to assuring health care for troops and their families.

"The Department is examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law," Austin said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pentagon performed 91 abortions at military facilities since 2016