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GOP resolution seeking to halt abortion care at Veterans Affairs fails in the Senate

Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin, sided with Republicans on the measure. He said the policy change should not be made through executive branch regulation.
Tommy Tuberville
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., speaks to a reporter at the Capitol on March 15.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled Senate on Wednesday blocked a resolution that sought to halt abortion services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A motion to proceed to the GOP-sponsored measure, which was introduced by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., failed in a 48-51 vote.

At a news conference before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats would defend veterans' rights.

"We all know it’s up to veterans to step up to protect us," Schumer said. "They risked their lives for us. They’re always there for us. And now, when these same veterans have their health care attacked, Senate Democrats are stepping up to protect their rights."

After the vote, Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs committee, blasted Republicans over what she described as a “heinous” measure.

"Senate Republicans voted to deny women veterans access to abortion care — telling Americans everywhere that the Republican Party wants to force women veterans to stay pregnant — even when their life is at risk, even in cases of rape or incest," Murray, D-Wash., tweeted.

The resolution of disapproval was part of an effort by Republicans to force the VA to halt its abortion care services to military veterans, a policy the agency instituted last year. The rule, which was finalized in September, came after women veterans had voiced concern about the lack of reproductive health care options after the Supreme Court reversed protections provided by Roe v. Wade.

Tuberville's proposal had support from only one Democrat, moderate Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said earlier Wednesday that the policy change should not be made through executive branch regulation, but rather through legislation considered by Congress.

"If this has to be changed, it should be voted upon," Manchin said at a news conference with Republicans. "I’m the only Democrat that’s joined the resolution, as you know. But with that, I believe there’s other people that feel the same as I do, just haven’t spoken out on this."

Ahead of the vote, the White House said in a statement Wednesday that the Biden administration "strongly opposes" the resolution and said that the president would veto it if it came to his desk.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a veteran who lost her legs in Iraq in 2004, said the U.S. and her Republican colleagues "were certainly all right with me making the choice to use my body as I saw fit when I signed up to fight wars on this country’s behalf."

Duckworth said Republicans were fine with her deciding "to use my arms and legs to fly a Blackhawk helicopter into combat and no one minded, and in fact, honored me when I lost those limbs in defense of this great nation." She said: "When did they think I lost the competence to make decisions about my uterus that they thought I had about using my arms and legs?"

In September, the VA submitted a final rule that allows the department to provide access to abortion counseling and, in certain cases, abortions to pregnant military veterans and VA beneficiaries.

"Specifically, VA will provide access to abortions when the life or health of the pregnant Veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest," the VA said in announcing the new policy.

Tuberville, who has also protested the Defense Department's abortion policy, reiterated Wednesday that he will stall the promotions of top-level officers and generals until the services stop.

"You know, it seemed like since [Roe v. Wade], everybody has been trying to circumvent the law. And all I’m trying to say here is let’s do it the right way," Tuberville said Wednesday. "Let’s send it through Congress. We were elected to make the laws, not the Department of Defense and Secretary [Lloyd] Austin. Let’s just do it the right way."

Last month, three-quarters of the Senate Democratic Caucus urged Austin in a letter to continue to protect access to abortion care for service members and their families. The senators warned that restricting reproductive care harms national security.

In response to the Supreme Court's decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Defense Department vowed to continue to provide abortion services at military treatment facilities under existing guidelines, including in states where abortions are banned.

The Pentagon also laid out new policies for service members seeking abortions at civilian facilities, which included subsidizing travel expenses for service members and their dependents to seek abortion care and allowing administrative absences without using earned leave to seek noncovered reproductive services.

The vote on Wednesday came as Republicans take action nationwide to curb access to abortion services, including efforts to halt the dispensing of a key drug used to carry out medication abortions.