Colorado lawmaker proposes legislation to protect military members’ access to abortion

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U.S. Rep. Jason Crow intends to propose a bill today that would protect U.S. service members’ right to abortion care across the military, regardless of what state they are posted in and that state’s abortion policies.

The Access to Reproductive Care for Servicemembers Act, sponsored by Crow and Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, would codify into law a policy that exists in some military sectors that requires commanders to automatically approve medical leave for abortion care and guarantee privacy protection.

While similar policies are already in place with the Army and Air Force, the new law would expand this access across every branch of the military. It would define abortion as time-sensitive, warranting immediate commander approval, while also allowing service members to take leave without disclosing to a commander the type of medical procedure needed.

The bill also says that if abortion care isn’t available in the service member’s jurisdiction, the Defense Department would pay for travel expenses as is consistent with its policies around other necessary medical travel. Retaliation from commanding officers or other service members is prohibited in the bill.

“One of the critical components of being a legislator is doing accountability and oversight work, so if women are not being adequately protected under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and they’re retaliated (against) for seeking medical care, then we will work to hold those commanders and the civilian authorities accountable,” Crow told Newsline Monday.

As previously reported by States Newsroom, the current military health care program, known as TRICARE, covers abortions only if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if carrying the pregnancy to term would put the patient’s life at risk. The program covers the health care of military members and often their children and spouses, too.

Rep. Jason Crow speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of The American Legion on June 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Crow, who is a military veteran himself, said it’s essential that men and women have the same health care access across the ranks of the military. He said the bill seeks to treat abortion care like any other critical health care need.

“That’s essential to the trust that’s necessary in the military,” Crow said. “It’s essential for our national security and of course it’s the most moral thing, and the military needs to be the standard bearer of our values for our country.”

Last month, Crow held a roundtable in Aurora, where he heard from Colorado abortion providers about their needs. He specifically remembered during the roundtable hearing from a military veteran now working in health care about how important it is to create “a structure that allows for confidentiality” and allows women to seek the care they need.

But Crow said he knows any bill that “provides reproductive choice and freedom for women” currently won’t make it through a filibuster in the Senate. He said he’s looking for other opportunities to get the policy put in place if the bill fails to become law, including his direct work with leaders in the Department of Defense who can implement policies “with the stroke of a pen.”

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Colorado Newsline, which first published this report.