Cantwell, Colleagues Defend Women Veterans Against Planned Vote to Strip Away Reproductive Rights

Cantwell: “It's hard to believe that Republicans would be so heartless to the people who put their lives on the line to defend our nation”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Democratic Senate colleagues, veterans, and reproductive rights groups at a press conference to oppose Republicans’ attempt to strip reproductive care from veterans and their families.

Republicans are expected to force a vote on a Congressional Review Act resolution later this afternoon, which would reverse the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) interim rule that allows the department to provide abortions to veterans, their spouses and their dependents under specific circumstances.

“The VA, in a very sensible rule, says that no veteran or their eligible family member can be denied abortion care, or be forced to stay pregnant when their health is at risk or in the case of rape or incest. Now, this is such an important policy. In the State of Washington, there are over 22,000 women veterans of reproductive age, and more than 300,000 women of reproductive age who receive health care from our VA in the country,” Sen. Cantwell said. “It's hard to believe that Republicans would be so heartless to the people who put their lives on the line to defend our nation, to defend our freedoms.”

Previously, the VA banned all abortion care and counseling with no exceptionsmeaning that VA doctors could not even discuss abortion as an option with pregnant veterans, even in states such as Washington, where abortion care is legal. In September 2022, the VA issued an interim rule that would allow the department to provide abortion counseling and abortions to veterans, eligible spouses, and dependents in the case of rape, incest, or the life or health of the pregnant person. This reversal would prove especially restrictive for women veterans and families living in states that have already banned or severely limited abortion access – if the VA rolls back reproductive care at its facilities, these women are left with few options.

Moreover, Republicans are taking this action at the same time that the Supreme Court is considering whether or not to let stand a lower court ruling that suspends the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) more than 20-year-old approval of mifepristone. That ruling threatens access to a safe and legal drug used by patients nationwide – including in states like Washington that have expressly codified the right to an abortion into law – as well as FDA’s Congressionally-mandated authority and drug approval process.

“We're not second class citizens and certainly our veterans deserve the access to health care from our VA system,” Sen. Cantwell said.

Sen. Cantwell is a longtime defender of reproductive rights, including for veterans and active service members. On March 27, she joined her colleagues in urging Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to prioritize reproductive health care for military members:

“Women service members, who make up approximately 17% of active duty military, have no say in where they are stationed, even if their duty station is in a state that severely limits or restricts access to abortion or other critical reproductive health services. It is unacceptable that service members or their dependents should face limited or no access to abortion care simply because of where they are stationed as part of their service to the United States,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Austin.

Sen. Cantwell intensified her push to protect health care access nationwide since the Supreme Court’s decision to rule against abortion access in Dobbs v. Jackson last year. In June 2022, after a leaked draft opinion revealed the Supreme Court’s plans to overturn the established precedent set by Roe v. Wade, Sen. Cantwell cosponsored the My Body, My Data Act to protect personal reproductive health data. In July 2022, following a meeting with health care providers at the University of Washington Medical Center, Sen. Cantwell cosponsored the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act to ban anti-choice states from penalizing or prosecuting health care providers that offer reproductive services in states where abortion care is legal. The same month, Sen. Cantwell also cosponsored the Right to Contraception Act, which would codify the right to contraception access established by the Supreme Court ruling Griswold v. Connecticut. In March, Sen. Cantwell joined Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in reintroducing the Women’s Health Protection Act and hosting a roundtable discussion on the path forward to defend Americans’ reproductive rights.  Last week, Sen. Cantwell joined hundreds of her Democratic colleagues in filing amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the Biden Administration’s appeals of Texas federal district court and Fifth Circuit rulings which would restrict availability to mifepristone.

Fellow speakers at today’s press conference included Sen. Murray (D-WA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Video footage of today’s press conference is available HERE; audio HERE, and a transcript HERE. Photos of Sen. Cantwell at the press conference available for use HERE.