In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, 25 Senate Democrats are imploring Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough to ensure abortion access for all veterans even while acknowledging that current federal regulations prohibit such services.
But Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, says any internal changes to existing Veterans Health Administration policies would violate laws already enacted by Congress.
In an August 26 letter to McDonough, Lankford writes: “Only Congress can change federal law, and Congress has held for the past 30 years that the VA is not permitted to offer abortion services. While activists and even my colleagues in Congress—including some who have written to you to encourage you to promote abortions in states where unborn life is protected, such as Oklahoma—may desire for you to use your authority to usurp Congress to allow the VA to provide, or even pay for abortions through rule making, that would be a direct violation of the laws you swore to uphold and follow.
“… Abortion is not and will never be health care. Health care protects life. Abortion takes life. Instead of promoting the taking of human life, I would challenge you, and others within the VA, to respect the dignity of our veterans and all of their family members, including unborn children, by ensuring services provided and funded by the VA are focused on true health care and consistent with federal law.”
Nevertheless, more than two dozen Senate Democrats contend in their July 28 letter to McDonough that the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 affords the VA Secretary the authority to “furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed” for certain veterans.
Seven of the 25 Senate Democrats who signed the letter are currently seeking re-election in November in Georgia, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Oregon, California and Washington.
“The VA must do everything in its power to provide critical reproductive care to veterans and their dependents across the country,” the lawmakers asserted. “We call on you to take swift decisive action to ensure all of our veterans … can access abortions and all abortion-related services.”
In Lankford’s letter to McDonough, he contends further that “current federal law and regulation, however, contradicts these statements and prohibits the VA from providing abortion services.”
The Republican pointed to Section 106 of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, which stipulates that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may provide women with “general reproductive healthcare, including the management of menopause, but not including under this section infertility services, abortions or pregnancy care.”
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that abortion is no longer a constitutional right protected by the federal government, more than a dozen states have banned or severely restricted abortion, although court rulings have prevented some bans from taking effect.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America reports that 14 states have enacted “total/near total limits on abortion,” while an additional six have similar bans in place that are tied up in legal challenges.
Three more states will soon have “total/near total limits on abortion,” while Florida has a 15-week abortion ban on the books. The remaining 27 states have “few or no limits on abortion” at this time.
Photo: Mark Thiessen/AP