Tuberville still dug in after Pentagon abortion policy briefing

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is seen during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing for U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff July 11.

Senior Defense officials failed to change minds with a Wednesday briefing to senators on the Pentagon’s abortion policy, with Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville describing the meeting as “not very good.”

Tuberville is holding up approval of senior military officials in protest of a Pentagon policy that reimburses travel costs for service members who must go across state lines to seek an abortion.

The White House and Democrats have slammed Tuberville for the hold, which they say is damaging military readiness. But the Biden administration’s public shaming, combined with efforts to directly engage with Tuberville, have so far been fruitless.

The senator said defense officials on Wednesday could not explain how the abortion policy helped military readiness, or define the parameters around when the Pentagon would allow service members or their dependents to receive the procedure.   

“They didn’t explain it very well,” he said. “They had no clue about readiness. They had no clue what month they’d do an abortion. We asked them eight or nine months — well they didn’t know.” 

He said he had gone into the meeting with “open mind, to be convinced that this is affecting readiness, and they gave a poor answer – [it’s] affecting recruiting, very poor answer on that.” 

Tuberville since March has held firm on blocking some 300 military promotions over the policy, which was established after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year.  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called the senator three times — including once in March, once last week, and again on Tuesday — in an effort to get him to loosen his grip. 

Austin explained to Tuberville “that his blanket holds were increasingly harming U.S. military readiness and national security at a critical geopolitical moment,” a Pentagon official told The Hill. 

Tuberville earlier suggested that he could be convinced to drop his hold should the Senate vote on an amendment to curtail the Pentagon policy in its annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers hope to pass before August. 

The House’s version of the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which narrowly passed on Friday, included a provision that would end the policy. 

GOP senators have offered up similar proposals for the upper chamber’s NDAA — which it will begin to debate this week — but if included, the amendment would hamper the likelihood the bill passes the Democrat-controlled Senate. 

Tuberville was not the only senator who left Wednesday’s briefing unmoved. Armed Services ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) also complained that the Defense officials failed to give data on how abortion access affects enlistment and readiness. 

“Officials from the Department of Defense could not supply that information, which clearly indicates that this policy was entered into for political reasons and not based on the facts, not based on data,” Wicker told reporters. “So I’m very disappointed, though not surprised, at what we are learning today.” 

But Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I) offered a far different take of the briefing, saying that after today “there can be no doubt in my colleagues’ minds about the legality of the Department’s policy. I am even more convinced of the necessity and appropriateness of this policy, which is critical for the health of our military women, men, and their families.” 

He added: “The Defense Department laid out clear, plain facts to the committee. The Department of Justice has examined the Pentagon’s policy and found it to be entirely legal, consistent with 40 years of precedent through both Republican and Democratic administrations.”

And Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told The Hill that the presentation was “very thorough and answered a lot of questions.” 

King noted that only four to five Republican senators attended the briefing.  

Al Weaver contributed.

Tags Jack Reed Lloyd Austin Pentagon abortion policy Roger Wicker Tommy Tuberville

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