Press Release

May 16, 2023
Cardin Co-Sponsors New Legislation to Provide U.S. Service Members Access to Protected Leave for Abortion & Reproductive Health Care Services

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in unveiling new legislation today – the Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act – that would codify the Department of Defense’s (DOD) February 16, 2023 policy to ensure service members and their families can access non-covered reproductive health care, including abortion services, regardless of the state in which they are stationed.

The legislation follows a letter, signed by 37 Senate Democrats, to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in March reaffirming support for the reproductive health care policies issued by DOD earlier this year and the right of service members and their family members to access reproductive health services without penalty or additional cost due to their service.  An estimated 40 percent of active-duty servicewomen, who are stationed based on the needs of the nation and not personal preference, now serve in states that have banned, restricted or worked to curtail access to abortion since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year. The bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Hirono (D-HI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Fetterman (D-PA), Gillibrand (D-NY), King (I-ME), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Warren (D-MA), Baldwin (D-WI), Duckworth (D-IL), Welch (D-VT), Wyden (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), Carper (D-DE), Murray (D-WA), Booker (D-NJ), Bennet (D-CO), Kelly (D-AZ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Rosen (D-NV), Markey (D-MA) and Durbin (D-IL).

The Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act is endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, VoteVets, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Service Women’s Action Network, Vet Voice Foundation, Power to Decide, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Allow service members to access non-covered reproductive health care through an administrative absence, to prevent loss of accrued leave and with full pay;
  • Allow a service member to accompany a spouse or dependent who receives non-covered reproductive health care through an administrative absence;
  • Provide a service member, or their dependent, access to travel and transportation allowances to receive non-covered reproductive health care (this does not include payment for the reproductive care services); and
  • Ensure the protection of the privacy of the service member requesting administrative absence in order to access or accompany a spouse or dependent accessing non-covered reproductive health care.

The bill follows a renewed bipartisan push last week on legislation to bring health care provided by the military in line with current law for civilian populations by ensuring that those who receive health care through the military have access to all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with no health insurance co-pay. The legislation would also guarantee access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault upon their request and require the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive family planning education program.

Bill text of the legislation is available here.