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VA performs its first abortion weeks after saying it would in certain cases

The VA said it would provide the service in cases of incest or rape or when the life of the woman was in jeopardy.
The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington on May 10, 2013.
The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The Veterans Affairs medical system performed its first abortion, weeks after an interim final rule was announced that allowed it to provide the service in cases of incest or rape or when the life of the woman was in jeopardy.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told senators Wednesday night that the procedure was performed at one of the VA’s medical centers. A spokesperson, citing the client’s privacy, declined to provide the location or give further details.

The VA did not previously provide abortion services, but after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended constitutional abortion rights, the department said it believes it is "essential" to the life and health of veterans and VA beneficiaries that they still have access to medically necessary abortions.

McDonough said in a news release that offering the service was a "patient safety decision."

"Pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver," he said.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the department's undersecretary for health, said the VA came to its decision after having listened to health care providers and veterans.

"Offering this care will save veterans’ health and lives, and there is nothing more important than that," Elnahal said in a statement.

In addition to abortions, the VA will also provide abortion counseling. Both changes apply to eligible dependents enrolled in the agency’s Civilian Health and Medical Program, or CHAMPVA.

The Supreme Court's ruling in June led several states to move ahead with trigger laws that either banned abortions entirely or severely restricted when they can happen. The VA said its health care providers will be able to provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions.

Decisions about whether a pregnant person’s "life or health" are endangered will be made case by case by VA health care providers in consultation with patients. The VA will consider self-reporting of rape or incest as sufficient evidence, the agency said.

The VA excluded abortion coverage when it established its medical benefits package in 1999. The agency, which did not provide an explanation at the time, said in background information provided this month that it was aware that veterans in its health care system "could access abortion services in their communities." After the Dobbs decision in June, that was no longer the case nationwide, prompting the agency to create exemptions to its exclusion.