VA Set to Make Its Abortion Policy Official on Monday, Despite Opposition from Republicans in Congress

by Braxton Taylor

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday will finalize its policy of providing abortions to veterans and other beneficiaries in certain cases, including in states that have banned the procedure, according to a federal notice.

The move will make the abortion policy official, but the VA has been providing veterans and covered dependents abortions on an interim basis since September 2022 — just months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or their life or health is at risk because of the pregnancy. The policy also allows VA doctors to provide abortion counseling to any patient.

The abortion services were part of the Biden administration’s reaction to the high court ruling, and Republicans have since floated proposals to block them. For now, the policy will be finalized without any changes in a rule that will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, according to the notice posted Friday on the Federal Register’s website.

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The VA announced it would for the first time offer abortions in certain circumstances as states banned or severely restricted the procedure in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling overturned 50 years of nationwide abortion rights granted by Roe v. Wade.

“These state bans and restrictions on abortion presented a serious threat to the health and lives of over one hundred thousand veterans and CHAMPVA beneficiaries who relied, or may rely in the future, on VA health care,” the notice published Friday said, using the acronym for the VA’s health coverage for dependents.

In the first year of its policy, the VA performed 88 abortions, according to a letter the department sent Congress that was obtained by in October.

In order to quickly change its medical coverage to allow abortions, the VA used a fast-track process called an “interim final rule.” That allowed the VA to provide the procedure while it went through other steps of the sometimes lengthy federal rulemaking process, including collecting public comment.

Now, the abortion policy is being cemented with the final rule set to publish Monday.

During the public comment period, the VA received 57,901 comments, many of which “merely expressed support or requested the [interim final rule] be rescinded without suggested clarifications or changes,” according to Friday’s notice.

Many of the comments in opposition to the policy argued the VA does not have the legal authority to provide abortions or that the policy was written broadly enough to allow abortions in any circumstance.

In rejecting changes responding to those comments, the VA argued, as it has in the past, that it has the authority to provide abortions under a 1996 law that allows the department to cover the health care that the VA secretary deems is “needed.”

The department also argued that adding more restrictions, such as a gestational limit or a specific definition for what health conditions qualify for an abortion, would interfere with doctors’ judgments about what care their patients need.

“The decision about whether a pregnancy endangers the veteran’s or CHAMPVA beneficiary’s life or health, and the needed care or medically necessary and appropriate treatment, must be made on a case-by-case basis by appropriate health care professionals,” the notice said.

While the VA policy is about to now be fully set in regulation, Republicans in Congress are likely to continue trying to roll it back. A Senate GOP effort to force the VA to reverse the policy failed last year, but Republicans who control the House included VA abortion restrictions in their initial version of the 2024 VA spending bill, which has yet to become law.

Bipartisan leaders in both chambers of Congress announced earlier this week that they reached a deal on six 2024 spending bills, including the VA bill, that is expected to mostly avoid third-rail political fights such as abortion, though negotiators have been tight-lipped about exactly which policy riders made it in. The text of the deal is expected to be released over the weekend.

Related: VA Says It Performed 88 Abortions in the Past Year, But Congress Again Threatens Subpoenas in Pursuit of More Details

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