The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a proposed set of circumstances under which its medical system could begin offering abortions.
Beneficiaries entitled to care through the VA, including veterans, their spouses, or dependents who are enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program, can seek an abortion through the federal system if the pregnancy threatens the health or life of the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape.
When establishing its medical benefits in 1999, the VA had excluded abortion care.
“This is a patient safety decision,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough in a press release. “Pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”
Following the publication of the interim rule, abortion services will become immediately authorized. The rule is open for public comment for the subsequent 30 days.
The VA stated access to abortion “is essential for preserving the life and health of Veterans and VA beneficiaries” and that restricting abortion access “has well-documented adverse health consequences, including increased risk of loss of future fertility, significant morbidity, or death.”
“We came to this decision after listening to VA health care providers and Veterans across the country, who sounded the alarm that abortion restrictions are creating a medical emergency for those we serve. Offering this care will save Veterans’ health and lives, and there is nothing more important than that,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the Under Secretary for Health for the VA.
The department wants to ensure veterans and entitled beneficiaries who are considered to be eligible for an abortion can undergo the procedure anywhere in the country.
“VA employees, when working within the scope of their federal employment, may provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions,” noted the VA.
Under the Hyde Amendment, which was enacted by Congress in 1977, federal funding is not permitted to be used to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy was conceived through rape or incest or if the pregnancy is a danger to the mother’s life.
States can individually decide to cover the cost of abortions.
Money allocated by the federal government for health care through Medicare, Indian Health Service, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cannot be used to cover the cost of abortions. The Hyde Amendment also prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions for active duty military members.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, a group of 25 Democratic senators advocated for a change in regulation to allow the VA to offer abortion services.
“Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington, have argued that the agency has the authority to offer abortion care under the Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996,” reports Politico.
VA health care providers will determine on a case-by-case basis if a veteran or eligible dependent’s life or health is at a significant enough risk to qualify for an abortion. The VA will rely on self-reporting for people seeking an abortion in the case of incest or rape.