Tuberville Gains Support Using Abortion to Block Biden Nominees
For months, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has kept Washington at a standstill by stopping hundreds of President Biden’s military promotions due to the Defense Department’s abortion policy, which allows pregnant servicewomen to take leave to travel out of state for an abortion if they cannot legally have the procedure in the state where they are stationed.
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While Democrats and members of his own party have called him out publicly, saying they wish the Alabama senator would let up on the blockade, the Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP), has given Tuberville their full support. The Republican State Executive Committee passed a resolution on Saturday (see below), condemning President Biden and supporting Sen. Tommy Tuberville in the ongoing fight over military-funded abortions.
Since March, Tuberville has been using a procedural tactic, whereby only one objection from a US Senator can stall the approval process, to slow promotions that are otherwise quickly approved in the Senate by unanimous consent. Nearly 200 defense-related promotions remain in limbo awaiting action in the Senate, but Tuberville has indicated he has no plans to ease up on his blockade unless the Defense Department reverses course on an abortion policy for service members.
The Tuberville blockade began after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent a memo on October 20, 2022, decrying the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The memo established a new Department of Defense policy that allows pregnant servicewomen to take leave for up to three weeks, with transportation allowances, to travel out of state for an abortion.
Tuberville has maintained the argument that this military policy is in direct contradiction with the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used to fund abortions in the military except in the cases of rape, incest and risks to the mother’s life.
“The DoD’s suggested policies are illegal in that they would permit federal funding of abortions not currently approved by federal law,” claims Tuberville. “To be clear, this new policy is unrestricted,” Tuberville continued in a press release. “Taxpayer-funded abortion is against the law. If Secretary Austin wants to change the law, he has to go through Congress.”
When the House of Representatives voted in July of this year to amend the annual defense policy bill, which provides critical annual funding for the Pentagon, Reps. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Chip Roy (R-TX), and 70 other Republican co-sponsors held the funding hostage by adding an amendment that expressly stated the DOD policy violates the Hyde Amendment.
Republicans also added another amendment that included limits on gender-affirming care. While these new amendments jeopardized passage of the defense bill, it ultimately passed by a 219-210 vote as many refused to hold up defense funding for the sake of conservative hyperbole that had no real ramifications under the law.
The Hyde Amendment blocks the use of federal funds for abortion services, except in certain cases. While Tuberville, Jackson, and other Republicans claim that the new Defense policy violates the Hyde Amendment directly, no federal money is used to pay for actual abortion services. By giving a time-off and transportation allowance, the military is merely facilitating the necessary assistance for having to travel out of state, not funding the procedure.
Considering the Conservative principles of interpreting the law using only the express words of the text within that law, this recent resolution from the ALGOP, condemning the Biden administration for “go[ing] against the principles of the Hyde Amendment" is ironic, as well. Perhaps the best argument that this policy does not directly violate the Hyde Amendment has been the lack of litigation in the courts over the issue. Republicans have limited themselves to symbolic gestures and procedural blockades because those are the only options available to them under the law.
When asked in a press conference about Tuberville’s intentional holds on Biden’s appointments in May, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed his disagreement. “No, I don’t support putting a hold on military nominations,” said McConnell, “I don’t support that.” Tuberville responded to McConnell’s remarks by erroneously claiming the Pentagon has not been responsive to his concerns.
“I’m not talking to anybody — crickets from anybody in the military, you know, to work this out,” Tuberville told reporters. A Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "and the Department continue to engage Senator Tuberville and his office in good faith and have directly relayed how his hold on our general and flag officers have risks to our military readiness and severely limit the Department’s ability to ensure strategic and operational success.” A Tuberville spokesperson next responded by saying that some of the senator’s aides have been in touch with the Defense Department “a little bit.”
While this latest move by the Alabama Republican Party lends minor support to Tuberville’s plan to hold up Biden nominations, it is another move that is mostly symbolic. The resolution holds no real legal weight within the state, and it does not reflect the will of the voters in a state with one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. Thankfully, Alabama does not control the federal government.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter, is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and an analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.
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