The Department of Veterans Affairs has the legal authority to provide abortions and abortion counseling to hundreds of thousands of female veterans and spouses of veterans – and it should ‘immediately’ start doing so, say argues more than two dozen Democratic senators in a letter to VA Thursday. Secretary Denis McDonough.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade “removed the constitutional protection of access to abortion for millions of people in this country, including an ever-growing number of veterans and dependents who can become pregnant,” reads the statement. letter, signed by half. of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “This decision makes it even more critical that veterans have access to the reproductive care they are entitled to.”
“As such, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently begin establishing rules to allow eligible veterans and dependents to receive abortions and all abortion-related services,” wrote the senators.
Current federal regulations prohibit the VA from providing abortion-related services. Beyond that, CHAMPVA, the departmental insurance program for certain dependents and survivors of veterans, only offers abortion services in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. But McDonough has the power to change all of those regulations through the rule-making process — and senators say he should, now.
“The authority of the VA to provide care to veterans is set out in the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996. This Act provides that the Secretary of the VA “shall provide care hospital and medical services it deems necessary “for certain veterans”. says the letter from the senators. “It is important to note that the VA used its authority under the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 to provide reproductive health care such as pregnancy care and infertility services, although such care was initially excluded from health care packages permitted under the Veterans Health Care Act. of 1992.”
“We call on you to take swift and decisive action to ensure that all of our veterans and CHAMPVA recipients can access abortions and all abortion-related services,” they conclude.
The letter is signed by Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Markey ( Massachusetts), Patty Murray (Wash.), Alex Padilla (California), Jack Reed (RI), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (Md .), Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Ron Wyden (Oregon).
Here is a copy of their letter:
Hirono, who co-edited the letter with Warren, said the “chaos” created by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade means it’s time to revisit long-standing reproductive health care regulations. VA policy in particular, she said, is ripe for change.
“As far as I’m concerned, I would like the secretary to act now,” Hirono told HuffPost.
McDonough himself has said he believes he has the power to change this policy. at a hearing in April before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which took place before the fall of Roe v. Wade. He danced around saying if he actually would, though.
“Our status would allow us to provide abortion services. We do not provide abortion services in accordance with the rulemaking,” McDonough said. “At this time, I have nothing to report on such a change in policy.”
When Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) asked if the law allowed McDonough to change VA policy to allow veterans access to abortions and abortion counseling, he replied: “The law allows it. Do.”
A puzzled Frankel asked why he wasn’t already trying to change the policy.
“That hasn’t been VA policy for several decades,” McDonough said. “I just haven’t changed existing VA policy in Republican and Democratic administrations in decades.”
“Well, I urge you to think about it,” Frankel replied.
On Thursday, HuffPost asked Hirono about McDonough not seeming particularly ready to change the VA’s abortion policy while testifying at the April hearing.
“Well, if you recognize that you have the power to do that, expect people like me, Elizabeth [Warren] and others to say ‘Go ahead’, she said.
Warren, similarly, told HuffPost on Friday that just because a rule has been on the books for a long time doesn’t mean it’s good.
“For decades and across all jurisdictions, women’s reproductive health has too often been an afterthought at the VA,” she said. “With this hardline Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe, the VA must step up and exercise its authority to provide comprehensive health care services to all veterans, including abortion.”
If McDonough ended up changing the VA’s abortion policy, it would still leave the question of what happens to female veterans who live in states that have banned abortion. Almost 400,000 female veterans of childbearing age live in states that are certain or likely to ban abortions following the disappearance of Roe v. Wade.
But Hirono said that shouldn’t matter because health services provided by the federal government aren’t something states can regulate.
“We can’t let the states tell the federal government what to do and what kind of services to provide,” said the Hawaii senator, who is also a lawyer. “I recognize that this raises a legal issue, but it is an issue that we should address.”
She didn’t seem particularly concerned about McDonough’s apparent indifference to VA abortion policy at the April hearing.
“My experience with Secretary McDonough is that he’s an actor,” Hirono said. “And so, I hope this letter will spur him to action.”
A VA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether McDonough was considering changing VA’s abortion policy.
The Huffington Gt