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Sen Thune challenges Biden admin's Pentagon abortion policy, demands protection for military leaders

Thune argues SecDef should take personal responsibility for approving service members’ abortion travel

By Jamie Joseph Fox News

FIRST ON FOX: Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., is urging the Pentagon to safeguard senior military leaders from enforcing the Department of Defense's (DOD's) abortion travel policy if it conflicts with their beliefs. 

He proposes that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should personally take on the responsibility of approving service members' requests to travel for abortion procedures.

On Tuesday, Thune will send a letter to Austin urging him to allow military leaders to defer to him.

"Their responsibilities already require tremendous testing of the soul and spirit," Thune wrote. "It is a mistake to tax them further by compelling them to play even a perfunctory role in the Biden administration’s abortion leave and travel policy." 

He added, "Implementation of this ill-advised policy should fall squarely on you, and you alone."

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), chairwoman of the pro-life caucus, also signed the letter.

"The Biden administration has, regrettably, made it abundantly clear it is willing to flout longstanding federal policy to enable the use of taxpayer funds to support all aspects of an abortion but the procedure itself," Thune wrote. 

The letter notes that under federal law, the DOD accommodates sincere beliefs — moral or religious principles — and seeks clarification on scenarios warranting denial of accommodation.

"We recently witnessed an exodus of experienced professionals from our armed forces who chose to follow their conscience when their pandemic-era religious accommodation requests were summarily rejected," Thune wrote. "Failure to learn from such errors and honor the deeply held convictions of our servicemembers may spur more untimely separations."

Thune is asking the DOD to provide information within 30 days regarding the process for facilitating conscience protections, the number of department workers seeking such protections or deferring approvals, the roles of individuals in the approval process, circumstances leading to refusal of conscience protections, and whether any accommodations have been denied to date.

In December, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., ended his months-long hold on hundreds of military promotions in protest of the abortion policy, which compensates servicemembers for costs associated with traveling to undergo the procedure. 

Tuberville began blocking President Biden's military nominations in February 2023 over what he said was the Pentagon's "illegal" policy of providing travel expense reimbursement to service members who seek an abortion. The Biden administration adopted the policy last year in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and held the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.