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First on CNN: Democrats seek help from Pentagon to protect service members’ abortion access

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono
Getty Images
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono

By Lauren Fox, CNN

A group of Senate Democrats on the Armed Services Committee led by Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono wants Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to take immediate steps to ensure that military service members’ access to abortion is protected no matter what state they are stationed in.

In a new letter provided first to CNN, Democrats are requesting the Department of Defense outline a plan to guarantee that women seeking abortions in states where the procedure is severely restricted or no longer legal are given appropriate time off to travel out of state, guaranteed privacy protections and assured they will not be retaliated against for their decision.

“Entrusted to your care are hundreds of thousands of troops, dependents, and Department of Defense civilians who have lost access to safe abortions and now face threats of criminal prosecution for seeking out those services. As the leader of our military services, it falls on you to preserve the health and welfare of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians,” the Democratic senators wrote.

Signers of the letter include Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jacky Rosen of Nevada — all members of the Armed Services Committee — as well as Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both of Colorado.

Specifically the letter calls out states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas that house major military installations and where abortion protections have been or are in the process of being restricted.

“This untenable situation violates the trust service members’ place in the Armed Forces when they swear an oath to defend the Constitution and this country,” the senators write. “It further threatens recruitment and retention as service members will undoubtedly elect to leave the military rather than run the risk of being assigned to a duty station where they and their family will be denied fundamental rights.”

The Department of Defense issued a memorandum earlier this week authored by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros outlining some of its plans to handle the aftermath of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. In that memo, the department warned of “significant implications” but said that access to health care for “covered abortions” would not be impacted.

Still, senators said they wanted more clarity and an implemented policy that guarantees women stationed in states that deny abortions “be granted permission to travel whatever distance necessary from assigned bases to an out of state provider to receive abortion related care,” reworks leave policies so that members abroad and in the US are given “permissive temporary additional duty” if they seek abortions and “establishes independent advocates or liaisons who can confidentially assist members to access abortion services.”

“We owe it to these service members to look after them and ensure they have the ability to continue accessing safe reproductive health care no matter where their military service sends them. We urge you expand on the Under Secretary’s memorandum and give this request the fullest possible consideration,” the letter states.

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