Cameron Smith: Tuberville’s abortion battle with Biden’s DOD mustn’t harm America’s military

This is an opinion column.

Military generals and other flag officers shouldn’t be a political football in Washington, D.C. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has held up promotions for the military’s most senior leadership over a Department of Defense (DOD) policy which provides leave and travel reimbursement for service members seeking abortions. Unfortunately, neither Tuberville nor Biden seem interested in negotiating, and America’s military will pay the price.

Under federal law, DOD funds and facilities may only be used to perform abortions where the life of the mother is endangered or in cases resulting from rape or incest. According to the DOD, a total of 91 abortions were performed in military medical treatment facilities between 2016 and 2021.

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a policy providing leave and travel reimbursement for “non-covered reproductive health care” which includes abortion services as well as in vitro fertilization.

To be clear, DOD funds aren’t directly available for abortions or other non-covered services under the new policy. Tuberville’s objection is that DOD’s logistical workaround is an illegal expenditure in furtherance of elective abortions.

Like the majority of Tuberville’s constituents, I believe life is worth protecting from its earliest stages. Tuberville is absolutely correct that the Biden administration has politicized the DOD when current federal law regarding abortion and the military is quite clear.

Tuberville, along with Republican Senate Armed Services colleagues, has asked Austin to explain the DOD’s claims that the Dobbs decision has impacted “readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force.”

Those calls have been unanswered.

If the DOD has a factual basis for its claims, then it should make that case to the federal lawmakers tasked with oversight. If the DOD is simply parroting Democratic talking points on abortion, then the policy change is political virtue signaling which has little to do with military functionality.

For those who aren’t familiar with the process in the Senate, Tuberville’s “hold” essentially amounts to preventing the Senate from moving DOD nominations by unanimous consent. While the aged members of the Senate often seem to struggle with the herculean task of voting, Tuberville’s colleagues could easily override his objections by voting on the roughly 180 DOD nominations he’s holding up. Based on the current way the Senate schedules votes, the body could take a year or more to work through all the nominations.

If Austin and the Biden administration aren’t even willing to answer basic questions about the justification for the policy, they clearly aren’t open to a compromise with Tuberville. Unfortunately, Tuberville hasn’t given himself much room to work with the administration on anything other than a full reversal of the policy.

DOD isn’t like other federal agencies. America faces numerous potential military conflicts around the globe, and we simply cannot be without Senate-confirmed leadership. Our men and women in uniform who have earned these significant promotions are not political pawns for either Democrats or Republicans.

To that end, Tuberville should end his blanket hold on all DOD nominations. Tuberville can emphatically make his point by focusing his hold on a smaller, targeted number of nominations. Ideally, Tuberville would aim his ire at Biden’s civilian political nominees to positions at DOD and other agencies.

Alabama’s senior senator should also offer an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to block the DOD’s new policy. Even if Senate Democrats defeat such an amendment, sympathetic House Republicans could certainly include the measure to be used in negotiating the final version of the NDAA passed by both legislative bodies.

Tuberville has plenty of options to make his point without backing down in his challenge to Biden’s policies.

We’ve reimagined our partisan political disagreements into a new kind of war zone. Doing so hurts our nation. Even in the hardball arena of federal politics, willingness to answer pointed questions and have a discussion is an critical professional courtesy. In this instance, Biden’s DOD has repeatedly ignored Tuberville and Senate Republicans. Austin and the Biden administration should at least attempt a factually-based, military-focused justification for the change in DOD policy.

Tuberville has every right to challenge Biden’s abortion access policies at DOD, and the majority of his constituents agree with him. At the same time, they will not appreciate Tuberville jeopardizing actual military readiness by opposing a policy that has little to do with it.

Smith is a recovering political attorney with four boys, two dogs, a bearded dragon, and an extremely patient wife. He’s a partner in Triptych Media, a business strategy wonk, and a regular on talk radio. Please direct outrage or agreement to [email protected] or @DCameronSmith on Twitter.

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