May 17, 2023

Duckworth, Durbin Join Shaheen in Introducing New Legislation to Provide U.S. Servicemembers Access to Protected Leave for Abortion & Reproductive Healthcare Services


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in unveiling new legislation—the Protecting Servicemembers and Military Families’ Access to Healthcare Act—that would codify the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) February 16, 2023, policy to ensure servicemembers and their families can access non-covered reproductive healthcare, including abortion services, regardless of the state in which they are stationed.

“Any attempt to try to stop the brave women who choose to defend our great nation from being able to choose what is best for her own body, her own health and her own life is hypocrisy at its worst,” said Duckworth. “DoD’s decision to make sure our brave, selfless servicemembers and their families have access to the reproductive care they need whenever and wherever they are stationed was the right one—and I’m proud to join my fellow Democratic colleagues in codifying it into law.”

“Our military members, whom we trust to serve our nation, should be trusted to make their own health care decisions too.  But as Republican state legislatures institute draconian restrictions on reproductive health care, service members and their families are often left without access to critical care because of where they are stationed,” said Durbin. “It’s deeply harmful, both on an individual and national security level, to restrict our service members’ access to care.  I’m signing onto the Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act to ensure that military members are not penalized for seeking out-of-state reproductive health care.” 

“The onslaught of anti-women laws enacted across our country since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have imperiled women’s access to comprehensive health care services, including abortion. Among those most vulnerable to these dangerous laws are servicewomen and military families, who have no choice over where they are stationed and what state laws may govern women’s bodies. That’s why it is paramount that Congress act to enshrine current Department of Defense policy to protect servicewomen and military families and provide them necessary leave for reproductive health care services,” said Shaheen. “It’s shameful that Republicans have pushed Congress to this point – that we need to safeguard paid leave so military personnel and their loved ones can seek out the health care they need. The attacks on women waged by Republicans are putting women’s lives at risk, and in this case, also compromising military readiness. Servicewomen should not be put in this position in the first place. I’ll do everything I can to mitigate the impact they may feel from these extreme policies and ensure their health and safety comes first.”

An estimated 40 percent of active-duty servicewomen, who are stationed based on the needs of the nation and not personal preference, now serve in states that have banned, restricted or worked to curtail access to abortion since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year.

Specifically, the Protecting Servicemembers and Military Families’ Access to Healthcare Act would:

  • Allow servicemembers to access non-covered reproductive healthcare through an administrative absence, to prevent loss of accrued leave and with full pay;
  • Allow a servicemember to accompany a spouse or dependent who receives non-covered reproductive healthcare through an administrative absence;
  • Provide a servicemember, or their dependent, access to travel and transportation allowances to receive non-covered reproductive healthcare (this does not include payment for the reproductive care services); and
  • Ensure the protection of the privacy of the servicemember requesting administrative absence in order to access or accompany a spouse or dependent accessing non-covered reproductive healthcare.

Along with Duckworth, Durbin and Shaheen, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Fetterman (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Peter Welch (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

The legislation is endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women’s Law Center, VoteVets, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Service Women’s Action Network, Vet Voice Foundation, Power to Decide, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

A copy of the bill text is available here.

Duckworth and Durbin are fierce advocates in protecting women’s right to access the reproductive healthcare they need. Duckworth and Durbin spoke out with Senate Democratic colleagues to oppose the recent Republican-led effort to disapprove of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ interim final rule on reproductive healthcare for Veterans.

Recently, Duckworth and Durbin joined more than 250 members of Congress in submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, in support of the Biden Administration’s appeal of a federal district court ruling that suspends the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) more than 20-year-old approval of mifepristone as well as the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—which does not revoke FDA approval of mifepristone in its entirety but does significantly restrict access to the drug nationwide and ultimately overrides FDA’s scientific judgment. Duckworth and Durbin also helped introduce the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023, federal legislation to guarantee access to abortion everywhere across the country and restore the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for millions of Americans.

Duckworth hosted Dr. Erin King of Illinois’s Hope Clinic as her 2023 State of the Union guest, as part of the Senator’s continuing efforts to defend Americans’ right to full, comprehensive reproductive healthcare—no matter their zip code, income, ability status or skin color. In 2021, she introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act, as well as previously supported the Women’s Health Protection Act, which she vocally criticized Republicans for blocking. After she urged Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to proactively protect servicemembers’ abortion rights, the Department of Defense announced several new protections and services to ensure our female troops can access the healthcare they need. Duckworth also pushed back against Republican attacks against the Biden Administration’s efforts to protect female Veterans’ access to care.