Senate Republicans Back Down on Pentagon Abortion Policy Dispute

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Senate Republicans won’t renew the dispute over the Pentagon’s abortion policy as this year’s annual defense bill is negotiated.

Next week, the Armed Services Committee is set to approve the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines the U.S. military’s priorities, without the drama of last year’s events.

Committee member Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) spent 10 months delaying the promotions of hundreds of senior military officers in protest of the Pentagon policy, which covers travel expenses for servicewomen seeking abortions. The bill was considered a potential solution to the standoff.

In an effort to get Tuberville to end his blockade, Republicans attempted to repeal the policy, but this attempt failed in last year’s committee markup.

This year, the situation is expected to be far less contentious. Although Republicans still view the policy as an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, none of the senators interviewed had it on their radar.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who previously introduced an amendment to repeal the policy, stated she had no plans to do so this year.

“Probably not this year. I mean, we tried it. Nothing has changed on that,” she commented.

As for Tuberville, he dropped his hold on military promotions in December under significant pressure from his own party. He has not yet decided whether to propose Ernst’s amendment but suggested he would not push the issue.

“I’m not gonna do anything unless I got a chance,” he remarked. “There’s no reason just to jump in front of the bus without having an opportunity.”

The reluctance is partly due to the fact that Republicans only control the House, leaving no legislative pathway to compel the Pentagon to change the policy. The department has defended the policy as a means to protect the abortion rights of servicewomen stationed in states with restrictive laws.

“We’re going to have to wait until we take over the Senate and get Trump in the White House,” Tuberville added.

Another factor is political. Re-attempting to repeal the policy could appear as picking a fight with the military over an issue that has become a political liability for Republicans, especially during an election year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to hold several votes on reproductive rights, starting with a vote on contraception access on Wednesday. He told reporters that a bill on in vitro fertilization would be brought up “very soon.”

Democrats caution that both could be restricted following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.

“You know, there are some fights that are worth having and winning. There are some fights that are worth having and losing, but there are damn few fights really worth losing this big, probably,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), another Armed Services Committee Republican, said.

“Because it doesn’t serve a purpose. It doesn’t serve an electoral purpose or a policy outcome right now,” he added. “If Tommy’s not talking, I don’t know anybody that is.”

The issue hasn’t completely disappeared. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a defense spending bill on Tuesday that would prohibit the Pentagon from using funds for the policy.

However, it’s likely the measure will be removed during negotiations with the Democrat-led Senate if it passes the House.

For Senate Republicans, the primary focus is on increasing defense spending. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, recently unveiled a plan to increase the military’s budget by $55 billion for fiscal 2025.

This doesn’t mean culture war amendments won’t appear in the bill, though. In last year’s NDAA, Republicans succeeded in adding amendments on gender and race, including a cap on the salaries of diversity officers.

“We most certainly are going to watch and see what they’re doing, and we’re going to try to limit their ability to impose their social agenda,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), the top Republican on the Armed Services Cyber subcommittee, said of the Biden administration, “but there’s a lot more focus, I think right now, on trying to bring up the top end numbers and getting the tools that we need for these young men and women in uniform.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the NDAA around the same time last year, with final passage in December. It has passed Congress every year for the last six decades.

David Sivak
David Sivak
David Sivak manages the Congress and campaigns team. He was previously an editor at the Daily Caller, helping to stand up the outlet’s fact-checking arm. His work has been cited in publications ranging from Fox News to the Washington Post.

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