WATCH: Pentagon to provide aid to troops and loved ones who want an abortion

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will provide travel funds and assistance to troops and their families seeking abortions but who are stationed in states where they are now illegal, according to a new departmental guideline released Thursday. The military will also increase privacy protections for those in need of care.

Watch the briefing in the player above.

The order, issued by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, outlines the rights and protections of service members and their dependents regardless of where they are stationed, which was a major concern for troops after the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted in June.

Access to abortion has become a key issue in the midterm elections. President Joe Biden vowed this week that the first bill he sends to Capitol Hill next year will be one that enacts abortion protections if Democrats control enough seats in Congress to pass it.

The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson removed women’s constitutional protections from abortion, leaving states free to determine whether abortion is legal within their borders. In the months that followed, abortion was banned or severely restricted in more than a dozen states.

The new policy establishes guidelines so that local commanders are not allowed to influence whether service members have access to care, or create a culture where service members or their loved ones do not come forward for fear of repercussions. It builds on an initial Pentagon response in June, where days after the Supreme Court decision, the Pentagon said it would continue to grant medical leave to service members who had to travel abroad for abortions, but noted that this needed to be reviewed the court ruling and subsequent state statutes to determine if further guidance is needed.

CONTINUE READING: Medical students worry about where to train as several states enact abortion restrictions

The Pentagon was also concerned that the Dobbs decision could have recruitment and retention implications as military personnel or potential recruits weighed the risk of being assigned to states where abortion is illegal. Many of the Pentagon’s key military bases are in states like Texas and Florida, which now have anti-abortion laws.

The new guidelines also direct each military base to publicly display what reproductive health care is available to service members and their dependents, extend the time a service member must report pregnancy to commanders to 20 weeks, and provide additional protections for the medical care of those in command Defense to provide providers offering abortion services.

Under federal law, the Pentagon health care system can perform abortions only in cases of rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is in danger. This will not change with the new directive either. The funds that the military would provide to service members would only cover transportation; They would not pay for abortion services not covered by federal law.

Attorney Natalie Khawam, who represented the family of slain US serviceman Vanessa Guillén, whose body was found outside the borders of Fort Hood, Texas, said the policy is part of the Pentagon’s continued effort to address a military culture that has not been supportive be from female service staff. Guillén’s death led to far-reaching changes in how the military dealt with sexual harassment and assault.

“When you protect a woman, you protect a family, you protect everyone who is in their nexus. It could be her children, it could be her parents, it could be her spouse or siblings, and you are definitely protecting the country while she serves the country,” Khawam said.

Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report

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