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VA plans to offer abortion services to certain veterans and beneficiaries

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to offer abortion counseling and some abortions for pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries, the agency announced Friday.

The VA submitted an interim final rule that would enable it to provide abortions when the life or health of a veteran or beneficiary is in peril, or in cases of rape or incest. It would also cover dependents under the agency’s Civilian Health and Medical Program.

The agency plans to move quickly, saying that the new services will be authorized immediately upon publication of the interim final rule, after which it will take comments for 30 days. The VA will “provide these services in as many locations as possible,” the agency said in a release.

“We came to this decision after listening to VA health care providers and Veterans across the country, who sounded the alarm that abortion restrictions are creating a medical emergency for those we serve,” Shereef Elnahal, under secretary for health at the VA, said in a release. “Offering this care will save Veterans’ health and lives, and there is nothing more important than that.”

The context: The move comes after 25 senators in the Democratic caucus pushed the agency to make regulatory changes to enable it to offer abortion care. As it stands, Congress’ Hyde Amendment restricts federal funding of abortions for active military members, and a 1992 law prohibits abortion care for military veterans or retirees.

Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington, have argued that the agency has the authority to offer abortion care under the Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996.

The move may face potential legal challenges. Republicans have pushed back, saying the VA would violate the 1992 law that bars it from offering abortions if it proceeds with the rule.

The VA argued in the rule that the 1992 law doesn’t prevent it from updating the scope of “needed” medical care to include abortions.

Democrats have lobbied the Biden administration to expand access to abortion following the June Supreme Court decision that permitted states to ban the procedure, including providing abortions on federal lands.

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