Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday blasted a new abortion policy at the Pentagon in a heated exchange with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, telling the military chief he will “lose” a legal fight over the abortion rule.
Johnson said at a House Armed Services Hearing there was no legal justification for the Defense Department to reimburse servicemembers for travel costs for reproductive healthcare, a centerpiece of the new abortion policy.
“I get that you’re trying to find a crafty workaround, but it’s a blatant violation,” Johnson said.
Austin responded the policy was “based on sound legal basis” and stressed that 1-in-5 servicemembers were women, about 80,000 of whom are stationed in states with restrictions on abortion access.
“This is important to our force,” the defense secretary said.
But Johnson criticized the defense chief, telling Austin he was “not an elected official” and shouldn’t be able to enact the policy and others not focused on military readiness.
“This insistence upon diving into issues outside of simply maintaining a lethal and capable fighting force is tearing our military apart,” the congressman responded. “There’s a process in our constitutional system, we expect for you to respect that.”
Austin, growing visibly agitated, retorted that service members appreciate the care and attention and re-enlistment rates remain high.
“Our troops like what we’re doing, they like the fact that their leadership cares about them, and we’re going to continue to care about them,” he said.
Johnson responded he would “certainly lose” in what he claimed was an incoming legal battle over the policy in court.
The Defense Department allows for abortions in the case of rape, incest or if a woman’s life or health is endangered and has vowed to continue those procedures at military facilities across the nation after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year and opened the door for more than a dozen states to implement more restrictive laws.
In February, the Defense Department also updated its policies to provide leave and reimbursement for travel costs to servicemembers who elect for abortion care services at a civilian hospital, which has been met with relentless criticism from Republicans.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is holding up some 150 Pentagon nominees over the new policy, dragging out a critical process for the military.
Austin this week told a Senate Armed Services Hearing the holdup on his nominees will impact readiness.
Tuberville told The Hill that it was “hypocritical” for Congress to uphold the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, but not fight against the Pentagon’s new abortion policies.
“I’m standing up for the taxpayers,” he said. “The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for that.”