Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently testified before Congress. He was particularly exercised over Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on 160 top military promotions in retaliation for the department’s plan to cover travel expenses for abortions. Said Austin: “Not approving the recommendations for promotions actually creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be.”
The Pentagon should stop making taxpayers pay for other people to get elective abortions. Then Sen. Tuberville would allow the promotions to speed through.
By the end of the year, warned Pentagon officials, Senate approval will be necessary for 650 general and flag officers — of whom 80 will be three- and four-star generals/admirals. If anyone needed evidence of military bloat, these numbers provide it.
Nevertheless, using promotions as leverage is an ugly tactic. However, Tuberville is seeking to stop an even worse policy, facilitating abortions for service members. “My hold has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision to the access of abortion,” explained Tuberville. “This is about not forcing the taxpayers of this country to fund abortions.”
He’s right. Why is the Pentagon in the abortion promotion business?
The issue is not funding abortions themselves, for which federal dollars are limited to cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Rather, DoD responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs by promising — last October, right before the election — to cover the leave, up to three weeks, and travel costs of personnel who wanted to go elsewhere to get an elective abortion.
The Pentagon euphemistically referred to ensuring “reproductive health care.” In most cases, however, abortion terminates health care. The result is a dead baby. That should be considered a sad outcome even if thought to be necessary. And the high court has decided that abortion no longer has constitutional sanction.
However, the armed forces are essentially attempting to preserve Roe for military personnel. And President Joe Biden believes that should be just a start. He proposed forcing taxpayers to pay for travel for everyone else and encouraged private employers to get into the abortion transportation business. Never mind the moral outrage of making pro-life Americans fund other people’s abortions.
The Pentagon should reflect the fundamental values of a good and moral society. The military did so in 1948, desegregating well before much of America. Promoting abortion is very different. Balancing life and liberty is no easy task, but abortion advocates cannot escape the reality that a second life is at stake, and that life cannot be dismissed as a mere inconvenience. No one can claim an unrestricted right to kill their baby, and being in the military yields no greater right to do so.
Indeed, contrary to the usual media characterizations of Americans as favoring unrestricted rights, the margin between pro-life and pro-choice has always been narrow, with the former sometimes in the lead. Most people end up in a muddled middle. Many who said they favored Roe, which they treated as a political symbol rather than legal case, actually backed far more restrictions than allowed by that decision. Most Americans sensed the tragedy of the procedure even when they believed it should be allowed. Observed The American Spectator’s Ellie Gardey: “According to a March 2022 Pew Research Center poll, only 19 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all instances. In other words, 81 percent of Americans are not on board with the [administration’s] abortion-on-demand messaging,” which the Pentagon is treating as policy.
In any case, being in the military is also a trade-off. Some deployments will be more satisfying than others. As a former military brat, I learned that ugly truth early on. The armed forces have never claimed that service members would enjoy equally beneficent climates, quality schools, spousal employment opportunities, bountiful shopping choices, and convivial political environments. The military needs not provide equal legal access to abortion. Rather, service members located in restrictive states who seek an elective abortion should expect to do what anyone else in the same position must do — take personal leave and drive or fly to a more liberal area.
So how to end the Tuberville impasse? The truly irresponsible, intransigent parties are Austin and the president. The Pentagon should stop making taxpayers pay for other people to get elective abortions. Then Tuberville would allow the promotions to speed through. The political deadlock would be over. And the chief promotion problem would be America’s top-heavy military.
Government should stay out of social experimentation and engineering. The military especially should eschew such practices. Better the Pentagon avoid America’s bitter culture wars, especially abortion. Give Sen. Tuberville his due: He made the armed forces confront the issue. The next move is up to DoD, and it should stop promoting abortion. Let the military concentrate on its principal duty: defending the United States.
Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and is author of The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he is a member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars.