Expert calls into question Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, calls it a ‘repudiation’ of ‘woke ideology’

Expert calls into question Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, calls it a ‘repudiation’ of ‘woke ideology’

The Pentagon reported last month that the Biden administration’s push to cover travel expenses for service members seeking an abortion was utilized only 12 times in six months, which one expert said is a sign of the military rejecting the policy.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in Oct. 2022, the Pentagon would pay for service members and their dependents who opted to travel to obtain abortions using taxpayer dollars “when timely access to those services is not available near a member’s permanent duty station.” 

Connor Semelsberger, the government relations manager for The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital that since the 1980s, before Roe v. Wade was overturned, the DOD has followed a federal law that says that the government agency cannot pay for or perform elective abortions. They could, however, perform abortions in instances of rape, incest or the life of the mother. 

“But then, Roe falls in 2022, the Biden administration basically has this whole government approach [of] ‘we’re going to pay for, promote and push abortion in any way we can’ … where they basically argued that although the law states they can’t perform the abortions, they would pay for them,” Semelsberger explained.


The Pentagon, Sec. Austin

The Pentagon is picking up the tab for service members who opt to travel to obtain abortions, according to a policy directive by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.  (Left:  (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images), Right: (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images))

Defense Department officials said they didn’t begin tracking travel under the year-old policy until August and weren’t able to gather any data from March through July. 

It is also unclear what the 12 trips were actually for, since the policy can also be used for other fertility-related health services other than abortion. Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh noted that while the policy was used 12 times, it does not mean the policy was used by 12 individuals and could have been used by one individual more than once. 

“They don’t even know with certainty that it was even used for abortion, because this extended leave policy and flight policy applies to other reproductive procedures like IVF or other fertility treatments you may go out of state to get,” Semelsberger said. “IVF could take 2 or 3 different trips, so this could be only a handful of people, not even 12 different people using this.”

“That’s been made clear over decades and generations of polling that Americans don’t want their funds paying for abortion or abortion travel or anything related to abortion,” Semelsberger said. 

“I think this is just another repudiation of this kind of woke ideology that’s percolating throughout all the government, but in a particular way, in the military, and those that have over the years really felt patriotic, wanting to fight for the country, do service for the country, really saying, ‘No, abortion isn’t for me,'” he added. 


The Department of Defense

A view of the Department of Defense at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on March 14, 2023. ((Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images))

The 12 reported instances in which service members or dependents were granted additional paid leave to travel out of state for “reproductive health services” cost taxpayers around $44,000 – $45,000, according to the DOD. 

“If you take that $44,000, you average it out across the 12 trips, that comes to about $3,700 per time,” Semelsberger said. “That’s a lot of money, right? So again, that’s not even the abortion, that’s covering the flights and all this stuff. So really, the financial benefit to the service members and their dependents that choose this is really high, $3,700 to go fly to wherever, get a hotel and get food for a night or two nights to get maybe a late-term abortion, which can take up to 2 or 3 days, depending on how far along the woman might be, that’s really generous.”

In a previous statement to Fox News Digitial, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss stated, “This administration has recklessly politicized the military with this farce of a policy.” He added, “The Department even admitted today that those that use the policy may not have even used it for an abortion. The reality is that access to abortions is not a threat to readiness.”


Austin argued at the time the rule was enacted that, with some states banning abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the “readiness” of service members and their families in those states would be impacted. 

“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 said. 

“These policies ensure that service members and their families are afforded the time and flexibility to make private health care decisions, as well as supporting access to noncovered reproductive health care regardless of where they are stationed,” Singh also said. 

Abortion advocates

Pro-abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, December 1, 2021.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

But, despite the fact that the DOD is “dangling this financial carrot” for women, the data shows they are often choosing not to have an abortion, Semelsberger said.

“Even though the administration has pushed the thumb on the scale towards abortion saying, ‘To be militarily ready so you can get back right out there and fight on the front lines, we need you not to be pregnant, we need you to get that abortion, we’ll even give you $3,500 to get it, we don’t want you to be pregnant,'” he said. “Basically, the service members are telling the government that, ‘No, we actually don’t want that.'” 

The DOD, Semelsberger explained, spent months going back and forth with the U.S. Senate, particularly Republican senators asking why such a move was necessary.  

“So here they are, pushing this, promoting this as this thing that every service member needs access to, no matter where you live and what military base you’re on, you need to have immediate access to abortion and basically the troops are saying that this isn’t really something we really need or want to use,” he said.  

“The Biden admin was willing to stake their whole claim on this, that it’s legal and it’s necessary for the troops and military readiness, and yet, they can’t even say 12 people took advantage of it,” he added. 


Semelsberger said the low numbers are a testament to the sentiment that Americans, and service members more specifically, don’t want taxpayer funding used for abortions and would much rather see their military pay for service members to have families and paid time off to take care of their children. 

“To be family friendly, which the military has over the years been, both in terms of how much they promote marriage and the benefits of service members that are married, this just kind of starts to unwind that by pushing abortion,” he said. “I think the culture is sending a shockwave and maybe that will happen at the ballot box this year, in terms of how they feel about these policies.”

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.

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