While last month’s Supreme Court opinion in Women’s Health Organization Dobbs v. Jackson means that each state now makes its own laws regarding abortion services, the health care that the Department of Defense provides to service members has not changed, said the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. .
“Service members can get the same reproductive health care after Dobbs as they did before the decision,” Gil Cisneros testified today before the House Armed Services Committee. “In accordance with long-standing federal law, ‘covered abortions’—those cases involving rape, incest, or where the mother’s life would be endangered—will continue to be authorized to use federal funds and facilities. There is no cutoff for this caution.”
Health care-related travel policies also remain, Cisneros said. If a service member must travel to obtain a covered abortion, she may do so in an official capacity and will not be charged for leave.
While the department will continue to be able to offer service members the same level of health care it has always provided, Cisneros said the department is aware that Dobbs’ decision will change the options available to some service members when it is about abortions not covered by the department’s policy. Based on laws that may be in effect in the state where a service member is stationed, abortion services may not be available.
“Service members must now navigate additional challenges to access essential women’s health care services,” he said. “Service members and their families, who were previously able to make very personal decisions about when to have a family, may now face greater burdens depending on where they are stationed.”
Cisneros told lawmakers that the DOD continues to review medical personnel and policies as a result of the Dobbs decision.
“We understand the very personal nature of how the court’s decision affects families,” he said. “We are very intentional about analyzing Dobbs with focus and compassion. We want to make sure we get this right because it affects access to essential women’s health care and reproductive care.”
Another aspect of reproductive health care that lawmakers were interested in concerned the availability of contraception within the military health care system. Seileen Mullen, the acting secretary of defense for health affairs, testified that until recently the DOD had contraceptive clinics set up at 18 military treatment facilities throughout the department. Now, she said, the plan is to have those clinics at all military treatment facilities throughout the department.
“We’ve expanded where we have military treatment contraceptive clinics — walk-in clinics,” she said. “A woman or a man can come in, get advice and decide what contraceptives they need that day.”
Cisneros said the department is changing policy on one form of contraception in particular — the intrauterine device, or IUD — to make it available to more service members.
“We are updating our policies so that service members and their families will be able to receive IUDs through the TRICARE health care system without having to pay a co-pay, which is currently the case,” said he. “We are changing our policy, updating it, so the co-pay is eliminated with this.”
Mullen also told lawmakers that the department will soon release the results of a survey on women’s reproductive health conducted by the RAND Corporation, which reveals a lack of knowledge among service members about contraceptive options.
“It’s the first time it’s been done in 30 years,” Mullen said. “He gave us a lot of information…including[ing that there’s] lack of education about women’s options about contraceptives, which are free in our MTFs. All active duty service members receive free contraceptives within MTFs and at our retail pharmacies.”
Right now, Mullen said, there is a small fee for active-duty service members to get contraceptives, but legislation in Congress could change that — making contraception completely free for service members and their families.
“We also have an app called ‘Set and Get Ready’ that men and women can use to go through their contraceptive options to decide what’s best for them,” she said. “We also have those clinics that are … expanding this year as well. But … it’s kind of surprising how our young men and women really don’t fully know their reproductive rights and health care consists of and we have to do a better job.”