A Major Victory for Veterans’ Abortion Rights. Yep, You Read That Right.
Four days after the Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked, veteran Lindsay Church and their wife found out they were pregnant—in one of the “happiest and scariest moments” of their lives.
But two weeks and thirty-three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the couple discovered that their child had a fetal bladder deformity. At that time, in summer 2022, veterans were not allowed to access abortion through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) system; so, the couple had to seek treatment at a community-based clinic. Fortunately, they were able to get that care in their home state, but it was amid doubt and fear that, at any moment in this post–Roe landscape, extremists might ban abortion for their family.
This denial of care was a failure of the VA system to protect Lindsay. As they put it: “The moral injury of having served a country to protect a Constitution that no longer protected my family when we needed it most has been absolutely devastating.”
For veterans like Lindsay who have felt betrayed by our institutions over and over again, the current abortion crisis is a nightmare.
But last month has shown us that we can—and we will—fight back and win.
In September 2022, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) issued a rule to ensure traumatic experiences like Lindsay’s never happen again—allowing abortion care and counseling through the VA system for certain veterans and dependents, and reversing what was once a total ban on this care at the agency.
But just last month, on April 19, 2023, anti-abortion senators attempted to advance a resolution that would have overturned VA’s rule. This would have been a devastating blow to abortion access for veterans—especially given the current and ongoing onslaught of abortion bans.
Take the fact that Texas, a state with the second largest veteran population, is now one that wholly bans abortion. People in Texas, not to mention in the 12 other states where abortion is now illegal, are being forced to travel for hours to access the care they need. And even though the federal government cannot immediately change that unacceptable reality for everyone in those 12 states, it can at least ensure that veterans get the abortion care they need.
When VA’s rule took effect late last year, we submitted a public comment to highlight the impact of the abortion crisis on veterans, who face a range of challenges including a greater risk of mental health issues due to their service and a military sexual trauma epidemic. These unique challenges show how barriers to health care, including abortion bans, have far-reaching impacts on veterans’ health and lives. As Senator Duckworth, a veteran herself, made clear: an attack on this policy is an attack on veterans’ bodily autonomy and their ability to determine their own futures.
Prior to this Senate victory, veterans like Lindsay, service members, and allies had already been rallying across Capitol Hill for reproductive rights and military justice reform. And women and transgender veterans who had long felt unheard were finally able to share their stories.
It was incredible to hear these veterans’ stories, and to be with these amazing advocates as, together, we witnessed such an important vote from the Senate Gallery. A vote that, as Lindsay noted, would directly impact their lives, “This policy will protect the lives of veterans and families across the country… Were it in place one month earlier, my family could’ve turned to VA for care.”
I could see that here, our victory on that day, was truly impactful. And I’ll be treasuring that for a long time.