Senator Takes on Military Brass, Aiming To Reverse Defense Department’s Abortion Policy

In October, Secretary Austin announced that the military would cover all travel expenses and allow paid time off for female service members who want to obtain abortions.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Senator Tuberville at the Capitol March 28, 2023. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The United States Senate affords members extraordinary power in halting the chamber’s agenda, and one senator has decided to use that power to try to end the military’s involvement in paying for service members’ abortions. 

Senator Tuberville unilaterally placed a hold on 160 nominations for general and flag officer positions in an effort to force the Department of Defense to abandon its abortion policies. In October, Secretary Austin announced that the military would cover all travel expenses and allow paid time off for female service members who want to obtain abortions. 

On Wednesday, Mr. Tuberville took to the Senate floor to defend his decision. “My Democratic friends keep saying ‘abortion is necessary for readiness,’ but I have yet to hear a shred of evidence to back that up. I’ve been asking for months,” he said. 


“We’re not talking about access to abortion, we are talking about taxpayers funding travel and extra paid time to get elective abortions,” Mr. Tuberville added. “This policy includes spouses and dependents,” not just service members themselves.

“According to one report cited by the Pentagon officials to my staff, the new policy would expand taxpayer-funded abortions from 20 abortions per year to 4,000,” the senator said.

Mr. Tuberville placed the hold on military promotions because he believes the Pentagon policy violates federal law. The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, precludes federal dollars from being spent on abortion services, and Mr. Tuberville argues that the new Pentagon policy is tantamount to funding abortions through travel and payroll expenditures. 


The Congressional Research Service describes a Senate hold as “a potent extra-parliamentary practice” that allows members to rally their own leadership to make certain decisions. 

One day before Mr. Tuberville took to the Senate floor to defend his actions, Mr. Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in defense of President Biden’s military budget. Mr. Austin made sure to mention the hold on pending nominations. 

“I really implore you to reconsider and allow our nominations to move forward,” he said to Mr. Tuberville, who sits on the Armed Services Committee. “It will make a significant difference for our force.”


“Almost one in five of our troops are women and they don’t get a chance to choose where they’re stationed, so almost 80,000 of our women are stationed in places where they don’t have access to non-covered reproductive healthcare,” Mr. Austin added. “This policy is based on strong legal ground.”

Mr. Tuberville has said he will not lift his hold on the nominations until Mr. Austin “rescinds these policies.”

For several days now, Senator Schumer has called out Mr. Tuberville by name on the Senate floor and in the press. “One senator — just one single senator, my colleague from Alabama, Senator Tuberville — is blocking all general and flag officer confirmations, taking our military, our national security, our safety hostage,” he said at a press conference.

The actions of Alabama’s senior senator have drawn criticism from Republicans as well. “My concern is holding the promotions of members of the military as opposed to political nominees,” Senator Collins told NBC News. “At a time when we’re having recruitment and retention problems in our military, I worry about the signal that that would send.”

“I think Tommy’s right to draw attention to it,” Senator Tillis told the Hill. “But now we have to look at a path that would produce a positive outcome, and I’m not sure we have one yet.”

Senator Thune, the no. 2 Republican in the body, signaled he does not want this to go on much longer. “Hopefully, they can sit down with Senator Tuberville and address the issue that he’s raised,” he said.

“I will stand here until hell freezes over,” Mr. Tuberville said on the Senate floor. “I am not going to be intimidated by a campaign of selective outrage.”

The New York Sun

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