Thousands of Troops Have Lost Access to Abortion. Biden Should Act to Protect the Rest
Biden should block Space Command's move to Alabama, to start.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned earlier this year, the Defense Department indicated that more than 240,000 active-duty service members and their families were living in states that now severely restrict abortion access. Just like that, the women and men who are stationed in those states—not of their choosing, but because they were ordered to—lost access to health care that they may one day urgently need.
In the weeks since the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision, the landscape has become even more perilous. A near-total ban has gone into effect in Georgia, while a similar ban is under judicial review in Ohio. Both states host active-duty installations, with Georgia alone being home to more than 65,000 troops.
Despite this being a time of crisis in America in need of urgent action from our leaders, I’m wise enough to know that it’s unrealistic for the military to pivot its entire footprint into pro-choice states overnight. But the Defense Department does have the opportunity to avoid making matters worse.
Take U.S. Space Command, established in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. Its headquarters is currently located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But two years into a politically fraught debate over its permanent location, reports indicate that the command may move from pro-choice Colorado to Alabama.
In the same year Space Command was established, the governor of Alabama signed a law, to take effect if and when Roe v. Wade was struck down, that would ban abortion in all circumstances except when the life of the mother is in greater danger than normally attends a U.S. pregnancy. This law is now in effect.
We should be concerned about what this means for those service members already stationed in Alabama whose health and well-being are now at risk. But how can our leaders consider forcing more troops and their families to move to a state with such archaic restrictions on reproductive care?
The Biden administration should act in this moment to prevent putting more members of the military and their families in peril post-Roe by blocking Space Command’s proposed move to Alabama.
But there’s more that the Defense Department can do to protect troops and their families. As officials choose new basing locations, access to reproductive care in the community should be considered alongside other criteria like the availability of quality schools and housing affordability. When localities compete for a new base and the economic activity that comes with it, they should know their reproductive care laws could stand in the way.
The Defense Department is already concerned that troops may leave the military because they may be stationed in states with restrictive health laws, so it seems common sense for the agency to do everything in its power to station as many active-duty military personnel as possible in pro-choice states. As the military confronts its biggest recruiting crisis since the end of the Vietnam War, this threat to readiness seems especially important.
When I was in the Army, I had no greater responsibility than to take care of my troops. My ability to do so as a leader affected our ability to be an effective fighting force. This meant everything from pushing them in training to ensure we could effectively fight together and handle the demands of combat to concern for their health and well-being and that of their families, both in peacetime and at war.
As a nation, if we tell ourselves that we support the troops, then in addition to ensuring our women and men in uniform are well-paid and well-equipped, we must also do everything possible to ensure they live in communities that fully support them and the needs of their families. The landscape has shifted post-Roe, and the Defense Department needs to adapt to the changing conditions as it would a shift on the battlefield. If our leaders fail to act, they will fail our troops.
Allison Jaslow is a former Army captain, Iraq War Veteran and a co-founder of Operation Liberty, an initiative launched in the wake of the fall of Roe v. Wade to advocate around the unique impact of the court’s ruling on members of the military, veterans, and our national security.
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