The Department of Defense seems to be using the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe v. Wade as an excuse to promote the Biden administration’s abortion agenda.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s Oct. 20, 2022, memorandum, “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care,” cites Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in directing the services to provide time off from duty and travel expenses for service members and dependents seeking abortions that are not available at their military medical treatment facility or the adjacent civilian community.
The first sentence of the memo claims, “the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has impacted access to reproductive health care with readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force.” This is an astounding claim, unsupported by facts, details, or supporting data.
Dobbs, which returned abortion regulation to the states, did change the regulatory landscape of the abortion industry. But the Department of Defense has not changed its policy of providing abortions in military medical treatment facilities where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or the life of the mother was in danger.
After Dobbs, a service member’s access to off-post abortion services will vary based on their duty location. Some states, such as California, have permissive abortion laws. Others, such as Oklahoma, ban virtually all abortions. But Austin’s claim that Dobbs adversely affected “reproductive health care” other than abortion seriously mischaracterizes the holding in Dobbs.
First, Dobbs held that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion. Dobbs did not address, much less restrict, hinder, or otherwise regulate “reproductive health care” apart from abortion.
Second, after mischaracterizing the scope of Dobbs, the memo claims the decision has adverse implications for readiness, recruiting, and retention. Again, the memo provides no data, evidence, or details to support this astonishing claim.
The effect of Dobbs returning abortion regulation to the states means service members and their dependents stationed in some states will have to travel to more permissive states to secure an abortion. That could affect some service members seeking to end the lives of their unborn children, but does it really affect readiness, recruiting, and retention, as Austin asserts?
Dobbs Did Not Affect Recruiting
Not according to an exhaustive Army Times study analyzing the Army’s dismal recruiting efforts in 2022. The Army failed to meet its 2022 recruitment goals primarily because of economic factors, the general lack of fitness of American youth (only 23 percent meet the medical fitness standards), the effects of the pandemic, and Covid vaccination policies.
The timeline of events also discredits Austin’s claims. The Army Times analysis quoted the senior enlisted leader at Training & Doctrine Command, CSM Daniel Hendrex, who said it was known by January 2022 that the recruiting mission was “facing difficult headwinds.” That’s when the service started increasing recruitment bonuses across the board.
A draft of the Dobbs decision leaked on May 2, and the final opinion was released on June 24, 2022, six months after the Army was well aware of the recruiting crisis. Furthermore, neither the secretary of the Army nor the senior uniformed leadership responsible for recruitment mentioned lack of access to abortion services as a detriment to recruitment when they presented their FY 2023 budget proposals to Congress in April 2022. Nor did they mention that a plethora of woke social policies probably is far more responsible for discouraging potential enlistees than abortion being returned to the states.
Dobbs Did Not Affect Retention
Dobbs has not affected retention, either. According to the Army Times analysis, as of July, the Army exceeded its retention goal for FY 2022, securing 57,738 active-duty reenlistments against a goal of 55,900.
Dobbs Did Not Affect Readiness
Similarly, Dobbs has not adversely affected readiness. Whether intended or unintended, pregnancy has implications for readiness, and these implications are to be expected when a non-inconsequential number of people in the military are women. Pentagon officials have always known that women of childbearing age get pregnant, and they accepted this as part of the reality of recruiting women. Increased pressures to meet percentage-based “diversity metrics” have increased the effects, but Dobbs has nothing to do with this.
There is no publicly available data indicating how many service members abort their babies each year, so the number of extra duty days that might be lost due to out-of-state travel is unknown. A survey by the Service Women’s Action Network in 2018 estimated that 13 percent of active-duty women experienced an unintended pregnancy at some point during their service. Of that 13 percent, less than one-quarter reported they ended the life of the unborn child through abortion. The remainder carried the pregnancy to term, and a few suffered miscarriages. Obviously, the biggest effect on readiness is the vast majority of women who carried their pregnancies to term and not the relatively few who opted for elective abortion.
We don’t know the number of women who might have had to miss duty days due to out-of-state travel for abortion, but readiness does not seem to be a problem with the services discharging thousands of trained, qualified, and experienced service members who have refused a Covid shot. It strains credulity to think that missing a few extra days of duty to travel to and from an out-of-state abortion facility would have a measurable effect on the overall readiness of the force.
DOD Enlisted in the Abortion Policy Battle
So what is really going on here? The Biden administration has made no secret that it supports abortion rights and will seek to codify Roe v. Wade — and far beyond it — in federal law. The Austin memo is a federal push for abortion without congressional participation.
Given the abysmal failure of the services to reach their recruiting goals, it is not surprising that Austin would mischaracterize Dobbs, use it as a scapegoat, and propose his new policy to remedy problems not caused by Dobbs. But this is not about the three Rs: readiness, recruitment, and retention. It is about the three Ps: preferred policy position.
Blaming the Supreme Court for the military’s personnel readiness problems undermines the credibility of the secretary of Defense, enlists the military in the ongoing political policy debate, and raises gaslighting to an art form. Austin should admit he is following the commander in chief’s policy choices rather than camouflaging his intent under the cloak of military readiness.