The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued an Interim Final Rule on Reproductive Health Services (IFR) on September 3 that would modify VA’s medical benefits package by removing the existing exclusion on abortion counseling and establishing exceptions to the exclusion on abortion care for veterans and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA) beneficiaries. The VA previously did not provide abortions for veterans under any circumstances and did not allow its providers to counsel patients about abortion. Under this rule, pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries will be able to get abortions if their life or health would be in danger if the pregnancy went to term or whose pregnancies were the result of rape or incest.

The move is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, which set off a wave of abortion bans and restrictions around the country. VA leaders said those restrictions created “urgent risks” for veterans compelling the agency to act.

On October 11, we worked with the Minority Veterans of America to submit a comment in support of the IFR and to highlight the benefits of comprehensive reproductive health care to the health and well-being of veterans. 

Minority Veterans of America is a nationwide non-profit that works to create belonging and advance equity and justice for the minority veteran community. More than 10.2 million veterans who are or identify as women, people of color, LGBTQI+, or non-religious or religious minority have felt marginalized, unseen, or unheard during their time in military service and afterward. In anticipation of the IFR, MVA asked veterans to share their personal experiences with restrictions on abortion access and counseling and received responses from people across the country – many of which are captured throughout the comment.

As the comment notes, the VA’s action comes at a pressing time for veterans and beneficiaries as they navigate bans and restrictions on abortion that are increasing across the nation. Veterans shared personal stories about how an inability to access abortion services and counseling can harm the physical, mental, and emotional well-being. For minority communities, the risk of these harmful consequences is heightened. The IFR allows the VA to provide crucial care and support to the health needs of veterans and their families and, if implemented fully, it has the potential to help many veterans and their families across the country. The comment concludes that while the IFR is a significant step in improving access to the full spectrum of medical care for veterans and CHAMPVA beneficiaries who may become pregnant, additional barriers to full access remain, particularly for minority veterans.

Read the Minority Veterans of America comment here.