WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday it will provide abortion access to veterans and their beneficiaries — even in states that have made abortions illegal — in cases when the pregnant woman’s life or health is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest.
The VA said abortion services will be offered in those limited situations immediately once a document that outlines the change is published in the Federal Register. It was not clear when the document, which was submitted to the register on Thursday, would be published and a message left with the VA on Friday evening was not immediately returned.
“VA is taking this action because it has determined that providing access to abortion-related medical services is needed to protect the lives and health of veterans,” the document, which is called an interim final rule, says. “As abortion bans come into force across the country, veterans in many States are no longer assured access to abortion services in their communities, even when those services are needed.”
It is the first time abortion services and abortion counseling will be offered by the VA. The document said that before the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, veterans could obtain abortions in their communities.
Now, the VA said that when working in the scope of their federal jobs, VA employees may provide abortion care regardless of state restrictions. Twelve states have banned abortions at all points of pregnancy, and most of those states do not allow exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough called the move a “patient safety decision.”
Under the document, health care providers and their patients will determine on a case-by-case basis whether an abortion is needed to save a woman's life or health. In cases of rape or incest, a woman won't have to provide evidence of the crime, such as a police report, as some states require.
The document says that allowing a woman to self-report rape or incest to receive an abortion “removes barriers to providing care” and is consistent with a longstanding VA policy of providing treatment to people who experienced military sexual trauma without requiring them to report it.
Once the document is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 30 days to comment.