July 28, 2022

Hirono, Warren Lead Effort Urging VA to Immediately Begin Offering Abortion Services to Veterans and Eligible Dependents

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led 23 of their colleagues in calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take immediate administrative action to offer abortions and all abortion-related services to veterans and eligible dependents. Following the far-right Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, over 800,000—or half of women veterans in this country—live in states that are certain or likely to ban abortions.

Under current VA regulations, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is prohibited from providing abortions and abortion counseling as part of the medical benefits package. In a letter sent to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, the members highlight that because the VA has the statutory authority to provide abortions, they therefore must immediately begin a rulemaking process to change the current regulations and update the VHA’s medical benefit package to provide abortion and abortion-related services. The letter highlights that Secretary McDonough also recently expressed that the VA has the statutory authority to provide abortions. 

“Last month’s disastrous Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned the nearly fifty-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade and removed constitutional protection for abortion access from millions of individuals in this country, including an ever-growing number of veterans and dependents who are able to become pregnant,” write the lawmakers. “This decision makes it even more critical that veterans receive access to the reproductive care to which they are entitled. Thus, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently begin rulemaking to allow veterans and eligible dependents to receive abortions and all abortion-related services.”  

“We contend that the VA has the statutory authority and discretion to provide abortions and abortion-related services and resources,” the lawmakers continue. “The VA’s authority to provide care to veterans is established in the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996. That statute provides that the VA Secretary ‘shall furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed’ to certain veterans. Importantly, the VA has used its authority under the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 to provide reproductive care such as pregnancy care and infertility services, even though such care was initially excluded from the health care packages allowed under the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992.”

In addition to Senators Hirono and Warren, the letter is also signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

Dear Secretary McDonough,

Last month’s disastrous Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned the nearly fifty-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade and removed constitutional protection for abortion access from millions of individuals in this country, including an ever-growing number of veterans and dependents who are able to become pregnant. This decision makes it even more critical that veterans receive access to the reproductive care to which they are entitled. Thus, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently begin rulemaking to allow veterans and eligible dependents to receive abortions and all abortion-related services. 

Current regulations of the VA prohibit the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from providing abortions and abortion counseling as part of the medical benefits package. Additionally, CHAMPVA, the VA’s insurance program for certain dependents and survivors of veterans, does not cover abortion services, unless the life of the mother is endangered.

We contend that the VA has the statutory authority and discretion to provide abortions and abortion-related services and resources. The VA’s authority to provide care to veterans is established in the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996. That statute provides that the VA Secretary “shall furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed” to certain veterans. Importantly, the VA has used its authority under the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 to provide reproductive care such as pregnancy care and infertility services, even though such care was initially excluded from the health care packages allowed under the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992.

Moreover, we agree with your testimony to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee stating that the VA has the power to offer abortion services and abortion counseling “as a regulatory matter.” As you explained last week, “[i]t is a long-held view of the VA general counsel that [the Department is] not statutorily prohibited from providing abortion counseling or abortion services.”

Finally, the VA has the authority to “provide medical care” to the dependents and survivors of veterans through CHAMPVA “in the same or similar manner” to dependents and survivors of service members.

In FY 2020, approximately 550,000 women veterans used VA health care, and over 400,000 dependents and survivors accessed care through the CHAMPVA program. The VA must do everything in its power to provide critical reproductive care to veterans and their dependents across the country.

We call on you to take swift and decisive action to ensure all of our veterans and CHAMPVA beneficiaries can access abortions and all abortion-related services.  

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