WASHINGTON – The Senate rejected a Republican effort on Wednesday to reverse a Department of Veterans Affairs policy that has expanded some abortion services to veterans, a victory for President Joe Biden and Democrats who say the services are necessary medical care.
The vote was one of several that Republicans have forced in recent months to reverse Biden administration policies. The Senate rejected 51-48 the GOP bid to scrap the expanded services, with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting with Democrats to preserve the rule.
The Sept. 2022 rule was put in place as Democrats have tried to find ways to maintain abortion access after the Supreme Court last year overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed the right to an abortion. The Biden administration says the rule is in direct response to new restrictions on abortion in some states that are “creating serious risks to the life and health of our Nation’s veterans.”
The policy would allow the VA to provide access to abortion counseling and also some abortions if the life or health of the parent would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term. The rule, which applies regardless of state laws, would also allow abortion access in the case of rape or incest.
Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the Republican who led the effort to reverse the policy, said the government should focus on other ways to care for veterans. He and other Republicans argued that taxpayers should not be funding the abortions.
Tuberville said that allowing abortion at VA medical facilities “is illegal and wrong,” and that the rule does not provide enough protections for doctors and nurses with religious objections.
“This rule is wrong on every level,” he said.
In a statement of policy, the White House said Biden would veto the GOP resolution if it had come to his desk.
The effort to undo the rule “undermines patient safety and invites political interference into deeply personal decisions made by pregnant veterans,” the White House said, “threatening their health and lives.”
Buoyed by better-than-expected midterm election results in the wake of the Roe decision, Democrats enthusiastically opposed the resolution. In a news conference ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that reversing the rule would take away reproductive care for hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families.
“The hard right is telling our veterans that they’ll be treated as second-class citizens,” Schumer said. “And we say, no way, no way, no way!”