The office of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., hit back at the Pentagon Tuesday after Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said troops’ abortions were not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
Ryder’s comments came in response to a reporter who asked which was more important for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: that military personnel be confirmed, or abortions be subsidized for U.S. troops.
The comments refer to Tuberville’s efforts to try and change the Pentagon’s abortion policy by holding up hundreds of military nominations and promotions – a move that has irked both Democrats and fellow Republicans. Tuberville says he will not relent in his position until there is a vote on the matter.
Gen. Ryder said the Pentagon was not subsidizing abortions, but ‘providing equitable reproductive health care for all of our service members.’
‘The Department does not pay for abortions,’ Ryder said. ‘What this is doing is facilitating access which a service member would have had previously.’
He added: ‘[I]f you are now assigned to a state where those types of services are not available, we’re not going to pay for those services. But what we will do is we will – just like we would if you were stationed overseas – get you to a place where you can then pay for those services.’
Ryder said the Pentagon did not want a force comprising ‘haves and have-nots where some people are going to have access and some people are not, by virtue of where the military assigns them, period.’
Tuberville spokesman Steven Stafford called Ryder’s comments: ‘too cute by half.’
‘[The Pentagon] can use whatever euphemisms they want, but it doesn’t change the facts,’ Stafford said. ‘The Pentagon is using our tax dollars to pay for travel and additional time off for servicemembers and their dependents to get abortions. There are no restrictions on the policy either, which means that this could include late-term abortions.’
‘Congress never voted to authorize or appropriate the money. There is nothing in law to allow this—in fact, there is a law against it. Federal law prohibits military funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and a threat to the health of the mother,’ Stafford said. ‘The majority of the American people find it offensive that the Pentagon is illegally using their tax dollars to facilitate abortion.’
Approving military nominations and promotions has historically been a bipartisan duty of the U.S. Senate. But Sen. Tuberville shattered the norm with his blanket hold. The Pentagon has estimated that the move has already stalled more than 260 nominations of senior officers. And that figure could potentially balloon to 650 by the end of the year.
Defense officials have accused Tuberville of jeopardizing American national security. Senators in both parties, including Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also have criticized Tuberville.
Tuberville has said he will not drop the holds unless Democrats allow a vote on the policy. Democrats argue that a vote for every nominee could tie up the Senate floor for months, and they do not want to give in to Tuberville’s demands and encourage similar blockades of nominees in the future.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.