GOP Senator Blocking Pentagon Promotions Over Abortion Policy

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama is single-handedly holding up confirmations of top Department of Defense (DOD) positions over what he calls executive overstep into Congress’ jurisdiction over abortion policies, according to the senator and media reports.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declared in February that the department would provide leave and funding for military personnel to travel out of state for abortions if they are based in a state that bans or heavily restricts the procedure. Tuberville said he plans to continue blocking about 160 promotions of military commanders to key positions in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East and for NATO until DOD reverses the policy and shows no sign of letting up, according to Punchbowl News and Tuberville.

“I hate to have to do this. It’s unfortunate. But we make the laws over here. The DoD doesn’t. This is not about abortion. It’s about taxpayer-funded abortions,” Tuberville told Punchbowl.

“If this was about a list of personnel, people actually doing the fighting, this might be different. … If this had to do with winning a war, obviously I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Most Democrats in the Senate argue that Tuberville’s move is jeopardizing national security, keeping needed positions in theaters where the U.S. is contending with pressing foreign threats empty, according to Punchbowl. (RELATED: Senator Grills Pentagon Official On Data Whether Hyped-Up Abortion Restrictions Kept Women From Serving)

On Monday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen led 38 Senate Democrats in a letter to Austin urging him to harden his stance on the new policy aimed at securing abortion access after a landmark Supreme Court case in June overturned federally guaranteed access, according to The Hill.

“State laws restricting or prohibiting our service members from accessing reproductive care send a message that the United States does not trust those who serve in uniform – whom we trust to protect our country – to make their own decisions about their health care and families,” the letter read. “These laws also jeopardize the health and overall readiness of our military.”

Other Republicans agree with Tuberville’s stance against what they say is tantamount to taxpayer-funded abortions and violates the spirit of the Hyde Amendment, a law prohibiting DOD from offering abortions at military medical facilities except in very rare and specific cases.

However, some GOP leaders said they too worry about the implications of holding up a process that typically proceeds without much controversy for essential positions.

“Clearly, on the DOD policy, I absolutely agree with Sen. Tuberville,” Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told Punchbowl. “That said, there are a lot of military positions that need to be filled.”

Tuberville met with Austin last week and doubled down on his pledge to leverage his position on the Armed Services Committee as pressure on DOD, saying he would extend that hold to civilian nominees as well if Austin did not walk back the policy.

“Austin seems to think he can make or change the law without going through Congress,” Tuberville said on March 24.

He’ll have a chance to confront Austin in person Tuesday morning at a committee hearing on the DOD budget request for fiscal year 2024.

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