As House passes defense bill, Sen. Mike Lee voices support for changes to Pentagon abortion policy
The bill includes several socially conservative provisions, including eliminating a policy funding travel for abortions
The House passed an $875 billion defense bill Friday, but not before adding several amendments that would change Pentagon policies, including those related to transgender issues, diversity and abortion.
The House passed the bill on an almost party-line 219-210 vote, with all but four Republicans voting for the bill and all but four Democrats opposing it.
Utah’s four congressmen voted for the bill, with Rep. Blake Moore, whose 1st Congressional District includes Hill Air Force Base, saying he was pleased the bill included money for military housing.
Rep. Burgess Owens, of the 2nd Congressional District, highlighted the 5.2% pay increase for service members, “the largest raise in over 20 years.”
One of the amendments added to the bill would block the Department of Defense from paying for service members to travel to receive abortions, a policy introduced after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The amendment passed the chamber on a 221-213 vote.
The issue of the military paying for abortion-related travel has been contentious in the Senate, where Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, has for several months blocked the confirmation of military promotions over the policy.
Tuberville’s blockade could slow President Joe Biden’s choice for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top position in the military, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., a former F-16 pilot in the Air Force, who had his Senate confirmation hearing this week.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee encouraged his fellow Republican senators to support Tuberville’s actions in the Senate, which have so far kept around 265 nominations from moving forward.
“Senate Republicans should support — not criticize — @SenTuberville in his efforts to defend a law (10 USC 1093) prohibiting the use of @DeptofDefense funds to perform abortions,” he wrote on Twitter.
The federal law cited by Lee prohibits the Pentagon from paying for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother is at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
The Pentagon said in February it would pay for service members to travel to receive abortions if they live in states where access to abortions is restricted.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken to Tuberville about how the delays are hurting the military, department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said in a briefing this week. She said the delays and vacancies could hurt military readiness.
Even with Tuberville’s blockade, senators could confirm military promotions one by one, but so far Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has refused, saying it would take up valuable floor time, and Biden has said it’s Republicans’ problem to fix.
But Lee says Tuberville is doing the right thing.
Secretary Austin “could end this standoff TODAY simply by halting his indefensible abortion policy, the sole purpose of which is to circumvent federal law,” Lee said.
The fight over the policy in the Senate portends a larger battle coming in the next few weeks over the defense spending bill, which includes not just a reversal of the abortion travel policy, but also several other provisions that could slow negotiations on the bill between the House and Senate.
But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Republicans want the military to “stop using taxpayer money do their own wokeism.”
“We don’t want Disneyland to train our military,” he said. “We want our men and women in the military to have every defense possible, and that’s what our bill does.”
Other amendments added to the bill include:
- Prohibiting Defense Department K-12 schools from buying or storing books containing pornography or “radical gender ideology” content, on a 222-209 vote.
- Eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion offices and personnel within the Armed Forces and Department of Defense, on a 214-213 vote.
- Prohibiting the display of “unapproved” flags, on a 218-213 vote.
- A requirement for the Department of Defense to study the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on service members, passed by a voice vote.
- Prohibiting the Pentagon from requiring DEI training as a condition of hiring, promotion or retention, on a 214-210 vote.
- Eliminating funds for teaching in Defense Department K-12 schools on race essentialism, or that the U.S. and its founding documents are racist, on a 227-201 vote.
- Prohibiting the Pentagon for paying for military personnel or their family members to have gender transition surgery or hormone treatments, on a 222-210 vote.
After the Senate passes its own version of the bill, which Schumer says they’re working toward, the two chambers will have to negotiate over a final version of the bill.