No, Secretary Austin, Pro-Life Protections Are Not Harming Military Readiness
It is no secret that the U.S. military is struggling to maintain its dominance at the international level. A recent annual report from the Heritage Foundation ranked the U.S. military as “weak” for the first time since reporting started. With threats looming from hostile actors regarding strategic U.S. interests on the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, and in the Middle East, military leadership has its hands full. Instead of taking these concerns seriously, President Biden’s Department of Defense is busy playing politics. Just over a week ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a memo in which he identifies what he thinks is a core problem harming “readiness, recruiting, and retention” — the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
In a memo addressed to Pentagon senior leadership, commanders of combat commands, and Defense agency and DOD field directors on October 20, 2022, Secretary Austin wrote:
The recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has impacted access to reproductive health care with readiness, recruiting, and retention implications for the Force. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, we have heard concerns from many of our Service members and their families about the complexity and the uncertainty that they now face in accessing reproductive health care, including abortion services.
The memo outlines several new directives for the DOD aimed at making it easier for service members to withhold information concerning a pregnancy from their superiors and making sure discussion of an abortion is not met with any disapproval. It also states that the agency will provide support to DOD health care providers facing adverse action in the wake of Dobbs, presumably because they would be violating the law in a state that has pro-life protection.
The memo pushes a radical leftist social agenda — the same one that the Biden administration and Democratic congressmembers have been pushing before the midterm elections. It’s a purely political counterproductive distraction while the military is struggling.
The U.S. Army fell 15,000 short of its recruiting goal for new soldiers in 2022. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said, “In the Army’s most challenging recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force, we will only achieve 75% of our fiscal year 22 recruiting goal.” There is a dearth of data on exactly why that is, but many conservatives are pointing to the military’s embrace of all things “woke.”
Since the Obama administration, but with much greater velocity under President Biden, the Pentagon has been suffusing all of its institutions with the tenets of critical Marxist thinking — most prominently with respect to critical race theory. DOD institutions have installed localized commissariats that go under titles like Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Such offices are populated with “diversity” officers who act as ideological commissars who spread the intellectual poison that the United States and its institutions are inherently, systematically racist, for example. Sadly, the Biden administration seems intent on transforming U.S. agencies to reject their original purposes like effectively fighting wars and training members of the armed forces for combat.
The Biden administration and their pro-abortion allies are now claiming that state policies enshrining pro-life protections will affect the military negatively. They argue that female members of the military in those states will not be able to have abortions, and that having quick and easy access to abortion is necessary for military readiness. This claim is completely conjectural, and there is no evidence to support it. The United States has many corporations that function across the country — it does not appear that the Dobbs ruling has produced real-world consequences for them in terms of productivity or damage to employee morale. Why should the military be different?
Furthermore, it is irresponsible for service members to join the U.S. military with the expectation that they will need to have abortions or encounter as little inconvenience as possible when procuring these abortions. To hold such beliefs would constitute a lack of seriousness to meet the demands of military service, which typically involves a great deal of self-sacrifice. Even service members who are in favor of abortion should not expect the taxpayer-funded military to facilitate them. Doug Bandow writing in The American Spectator notes: “Just as principled taxpayers who value unborn life should not be forced to pay for abortions, they should not be expected to enable military personnel to visit abortionists. Federalism ensures that abortion will be available somewhere in America. Taking advantage of that opportunity, if that is the right way to describe getting a procedure that results in a dead baby, should be left up to the person involved.”
Republicans in Congress have pushed back on this DOD memo. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said that he had drafted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit funding travel for service members to get an abortion. Other Republicans are also committed to undermining the radical pro-abortion push at DOD. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) released a statement in which he said, “Taxpayer dollars meant for deterring China and other adversaries should not be squandered on campaign politics.”
American mothers serving in the military are highly patriotic and focused on achieving mission success for their country. Women do not need abortion in order to heroically serve their country, and it is concerning that the military would promote a policy that would rather women kill their unborn children then take time away from their service to be mothers. Some women in the military are pro-abortion, but many more will strive to make their pregnancies work within the framework of their military service. The Biden policy memo is about politicizing pregnancy when it should be offering solutions for newly expecting mothers.
Secretary Austin is right that there are reasons to be concerned about current military readiness, recruiting, and retention. But one thing is clear: Unborn babies aren’t to blame and killing them will do nothing to make America safer.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."
Dr. Chris Gacek is Coalitions Senior Research Fellow at Family Research Council.