Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville will not change his position on the Department of Defense’s decision to pay for abortion-related travel costs despite the escalating conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Tuberville has been blocking the confirmation of military promotions until Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agrees to put his expansion of the department’s abortion travel subsidization policy to a vote. Increased international tension will not deter the senator from maintaining his protest, according to a member of his staff.
“The Pentagon clearly thinks forcing taxpayers to facilitate abortion is more important than confirming their top nominees without a vote,” said Steve Stafford, a spokesman for Tuberville, in a statement to NBC News. “They could end this situation TODAY by dropping their illegal and immoral policy and get everyone confirmed rapidly, but they refuse.”
“If the Biden administration wants their nominees confirmed then Senate Democrats can do what Coach just did in September and file a cloture petition to force a vote,” Stafford added, using Tuberville’s nickname. The Republican previously worked as a college football coach.
Tuberville began his blockade at the start of 2023 after informing Austin of his opposition to the “vast expansion of DoD-subsidized abortions.” The DoD had previously provided for or funded abortion-related travel in a limited capacity – in the cases of rape, incest or pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother – which resulted in an average of fewer than 20 abortions annually. Austin’s proposed expansion of the policy has been estimated to cover the travel costs for approximately 4,100 abortions per year.
“When questioned on these issues, the department could not provide analysis or estimates of how this policy change will impact its budget, readiness, and manpower,” noted Tuberville in his letter. “It is my conviction that this proposed policy change is illegal, circumvents Congress, and exceeds your authority.”
The senator has asked that a vote to codify the abortion travel expense policy be held. He said he would agree to end his blockade if the motion passed so long as the DoD agreed to repeal the expanded policy provided the measure fails.
At least 300 military confirmations have been stalled as a result of this standoff. The United States Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Army are all without permanent leadership because of Tuberville’s protest.
Austin said Tuberville’s blockade is “undermining America’s military readiness” while speaking at Admiral Mike Gilday’s relinquishment ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in August.
“This is unprecedented, it is unnecessary, and it is unsafe. … This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness,” said the secretary. “It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers … and it’s upending the lives of far too many American military families.”
The Biden administration has underscored its support for Israel after multiple Hamas-lead attacks over the weekend. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that his country is now at war during a televised address on Oct. 7.
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he said, promising that Israel would “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known,” per PBS.
The U.S. moved several ships and jets as well as an aircraft carrier closer to Israel after the attacks. The White House has promised additional military aid will be sent to Israel in the upcoming days.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referred to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as “President.”