Cantwell Sends Letter to Defense Secretary Urging Prioritization of Reproductive Care for Service Members

Cantwell & colleagues write to DoD: “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”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined 37 Senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin underscoring the serious national security imperatives tied to providing U.S. service members access to protected leave for abortion and reproductive health care services.

“Following the Dobbs decision, the RAND Corporation estimates that 40% of active duty women serving in the continental United States face limited or no access to abortion services where they are stationed. When service members are assigned to duty stations either domestically or overseas, their placement is determined by the needs of the U.S. military. 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.

The letter addressed numerous national security implications in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. In addition to disenfranchising U.S. servicewomen from controlling their own bodies, the decision risks serious repercussions for the U.S. military, including health of the force, military readiness, and recruitment and retention.

In their letter, the Senators explain the national security implications for restricting service members’ reproductive freedom and underscore the dangerous message sent to women in uniform – current and future – that they cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about their health and families. The Senators conclude the letter by reaffirming Senate Democrats’ commitment to support the Department of Defense's (DOD) reproductive health care policies.

The full text of the letter is available HERE.

The letter was led by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). In addition to Sen. Cantwell, cosigners included Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

As a longtime champion of reproductive rights, Sen. Cantwell has 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, after a leaked draft opinion revealed the Supreme Court’s plans to overturn the established precedent set by Roe, Sen. Cantwell cosponsored the My Body, My Data Act to protect personal reproductive health data. In July, 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.

Earlier this month, Sen. Cantwell joined Sen. Murray in reintroducing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify the reproductive rights previously established by Roe.  On March 10, Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Murray met with abortion providers at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Seattle and heard from practitioners about the challenges their patients are facing. On March 16, Sen. Cantwell delivered a speech on the Senate floor calling for stronger federal protections for mifepristone, a vital medication abortion drug.  Although the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago, its availability is being challenged in a Texas lawsuit that has ramifications for women across the country, including states like Washington that have expressly codified the right to an abortion into law.