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VA Announces Abortion Counseling and Access In Limited Cases

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced it will provide access to abortion counseling and services in limited cases. Following the overturn of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court, the VA was faced with a dilemma.

The Supreme Court’s decision effectively put state law in charge of deciding the legality of certain medical procedures such as abortion. No two states have laws exactly the same in this area, which potentially means a lack of equity for veterans who need abortion counseling and/or services in states that choose to restrict a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive care.

A Lack Of Access To Potentially Life-Saving Care

That lack of equity puts some veterans in danger. The danger being that some veterans may (because of state law) not have access to life-saving medical procedures when necessary while others have unrestricted access. Therefore, a decision was made by the Department of Veterans Affairs to choose veteran safety over political concerns.

On September 1, 2022, the VA sent an interim final rule to the Federal Register announcing the VA would provide access to abortion counseling “and — in certain cases — abortions to pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries” according to a press release on the VA official site. This access is provided regardless of state laws that may govern abortion or abortion access.

VA Abortion Services In States That Ban Abortions

Does this mean abortion procedures would be carried out in states that outlaw abortion? The VA official site makes the following unequivocal statement:

“VA is taking steps to guarantee Veterans and other VA beneficiaries have access to abortion-related care anywhere in the country. VA employees, when working within the scope of their federal employment, may provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions”.

Who Is Affected

The interim final rule states the VA provides “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” with the VA press release on the matter including a mention that VA beneficiaries enrolled in CHAMPVA also benefit from this rule.

These services were made available “immediately” upon publication of the rule. As the name “interim final rule” applies, the public has 30 days in which to comment on the rule before the final choice to codify or eliminate the rule is made.

The VA official site has much to say about unrestricted access to medically necessary procedures. And as part of that conversation, the agency holds that decisions to pursue such care are not made lightly. The decision for the VA to approve abortion counseling and services is made “on a case-by-case basis and will be the result of careful consultation between VA health care providers and the Veterans they serve” according to the VA.

Feedback About The Interim Final Rule

Commentary on the interim final rule regarding the VA policy on abortion counseling and services was immediate. One example?  House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) issued a statement applauding the move. Takano said in his statement that he is “pleased that VA is reversing its longstanding and unjust prohibitions on abortion and abortion counseling.”

He adds that by allowing abortion counseling “…and furnishing abortions in the cases of incest, rape and to protect the life and health of the woman, VA will now be on par with all other federal healthcare programs,”

According to Takano, the move by the VA is a good initial action, but he says more is required. “As the largest integrated healthcare network in the United States, VA has a responsibility to serve all veterans and their unique needs” which he says should include access to “the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, without exceptions.”

And what about the view from the Department of Veterans Affairs? “This is a patient safety decision,” says VA Secretary Denis McDonough, who is quoted in a press release about VA abortion policy. McDonough says pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve “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.”

Access to medically necessary abortions is a major quality of life issue for veterans and their families. The VA philosophy about current abortion law in the United States? Here’s what the VA press release has to say:

“Restricting access to abortion care has well-documented adverse health consequences, including increased risk of loss of future fertility, significant morbidity, or death. Veterans are also at greater risk of experiencing pregnancy-related complications due to increased rates of chronic health conditions.”

How Can You Determine Your Eligibility For VA-Provided Abortion Counseling And Services?

The interim final rule states that the VA may 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”.

You will need to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to see if you are eligible for VA care but in general, you may qualify if the following conditions apply:

  • You enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered active duty after October 16, 1981, and served 24 continuous months or the “full period for which you were called to active duty”.
  • You may qualify for an exception to the above if you were discharged for a disability caused or aggravated by your active-duty service; you may also qualify if you were discharged for a hardship or qualified for an “early out” opportunity.
  • You may also qualify for an exception if your military service was before September 7, 1980
  • Members of the Guard or Reserve called to active duty by a federal order may also qualify if they have completed “the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty”

For more information on qualifying or the types of care you could receive, contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN.