Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said Friday the VA will offer access to abortion services to veterans and beneficiaries under certain circumstances. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday it will provide abortion access in certain circumstances to pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries.
"Specifically, VA will provide access to abortions when the life or health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest," the department said in a news release.
The services also apply to beneficiaries enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA.
The interim final rule was submitted to the Federal Register and will take effect immediately upon being published. The VA will take public comments for 30 days after the rule is published.
"This is a patient safety decision," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "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.
The move comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson, which overturned the 1973 opinion in Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.
That decision sparked a wave of trigger laws in states aiming to ban abortions along with legal challenges to those laws and efforts to protect access to abortion in other states.
In July, a group of 25 Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, sent a letter to McDonough urging "swift and decisive action" to ensure access to abortions and abortion-related services for veterans and beneficiaries.
"We came to this decision after listening to VA healthcare providers and veterans across the country, who sounded the alarm that abortion restrictions are creating a medical emergency for those we serve," Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the undersecretary for health, said in a statement.
Abortion opponents have argued that the VA would violate the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 by providing abortions. The VA has said that law doesn't prohibit the department from amending its medical benefits package.
"When the law was enacted in 1992, prior to the 1996 enactment of the Veterans' Health Care Eligibility Reform Act, VA healthcare was subject to a patchwork of eligibility criteria, and care was largely linked only to service-connected conditions," the VA wrote in its interim final rule.
The 1996 act reformed eligibility to "replace the old system with a system where an enrolled veteran could receive whatever medical care and services are deemed needed."
"VA is taking this action because it has determined that providing access to abortion-related medical services is needed to protect the lives and health of veterans," the rule says.
Whether the life and health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered will be determined on a case-by-case basis by VA healthcare providers in consultation with veterans.
Abortion opponents celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, ending federal abortion protection in Washington on Friday. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo