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DOD official: No changes to women's essential health care

An aerial view of the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021. Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase

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WASHINGTON - The recent Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization does not prohibit the Defense Department from continuing to provide essential women's health care services to service members, dependents, other beneficiaries and DOD civilian employees, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness said in a memo released June 29. 

Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr. noted that under existing federal law DOD may only perform or pay for abortions if the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest - called "covered abortions."

The recent Supreme Court decision does not prohibit DOD from continuing to perform these covered abortions, consistent with federal law, he wrote.

"There will be no interruption to this care," Cisneros said.

"Health care providers will continue to follow existing departmental policy," he continued, adding that military medical treatment facilities will implement measures to ensure continued access to care.

Cisneros said it is the Justice Department's longstanding position that the states generally may not impose criminal or civil liability on federal employees who are performing their official duties in a manner authorized by federal law.

DOD will work with the Justice Department to ensure access to counsel for civilian employees and service members if needed and as appropriate, he wrote.


The Supreme Court's decision also does not affect DOD's leave policies, Cisneros said.

"Existing department policy authorizes active-duty service members to travel as necessary to receive abortion care," he said. The travel may be government-funded, official travel for a covered abortion, or for all other cases, it may be undertaken as regular leave at the service member's expense.

"Access to emergency or convalescent leave remains unchanged for all service members," Cisneros noted.

DOD civilian employees may continue to use sick leave or other forms of leave as necessary to care for themselves or their family members, he said. Sick leave may also be used to cover travel that may be needed to obtain any type of medical treatment.

DOD, the military departments and the DOD Office of General Counsel will continue to review current DOD policies and procedures in light of evolving state laws to assess any impact they may have on DOD. Additional guidance will be issued as appropriate.

"As always, we will take every action within our authority to ensure the safety and health of each and every member of our team," Cisneros wrote.

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