WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) joined Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a letter today with Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) on behalf of a group of 35 Senators to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, underscoring the serious national security imperatives tied to providing U.S. service members access to protected leave for abortion and reproductive health care services. Shaheen’s letter addresses numerous national security implications in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which in addition to disenfranchising U.S. servicewomen control over their own bodies, risks serious repercussions for the U.S. military, including health of the force, military readiness and recruitment and retention. The letter reaffirms commitment among Senators to support the Department of Defense’s (DOD) reproductive health care policies.
Joining Cardin, Shaheen, Hirono and Bennet are Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
The Senators write, in part, “Following the Dobbs decision, the RAND Corporation estimates that 40% of active duty women serving in the continental United States face limited or no access to abortion services where they are stationed. When service members are assigned to duty stations either domestically or overseas, their placement is determined by the needs of the U.S. military. Women service members, who make up approximately 17% of active duty military, have no say in where they are stationed, even if their duty station is in a state that severely limits or restricts access to abortion or other critical reproductive health services. It is unacceptable that service members or their dependents should face limited or no access to abortion care simply because of where they are stationed as part of their service to the United States.”
In their letter, the Senators explain the national security implications for restricting service members’ reproductive freedom and underscore the dangerous message sent to women in uniform – current and future – that they cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about their health and families. The Senators conclude the letter by reaffirming Senate Democrats’ commitment to ensure the full implementation of the Department’s reproductive policies and that efforts will continue in the Senate to fiercely defend service members and their families’ health and freedoms.
The letter can be read in full here.
Senator Shaheen is an unrelenting advocate for women’s reproductive rights. She has long prioritized access to comprehensive reproductive health care for service women, including by ensuring service women have access to abortions in cases of rape and incest. A senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to enshrine the right for service members to access protected leave for abortion care and services. For years, Shaheen has fought to expand coverage of women’s preventative care, including through her legislation to reduce the cost of contraception for servicewomen and dependents in military families. In January, Shaheen – also a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) – joined SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on a letter to the U.S. State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) calling on the Biden administration to guarantee access to adequate health care services, including reproductive health care and post-sexual assault care, for women employees at the agencies. Last May, Shaheen penned an op-ed for the Union Leader underscoring the threats to women’s freedoms and rights in a post-Roe America. It can be read in full here.