A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday urging him to proactively implement measures protecting abortion rights for service members in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
In the letter, senators led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) brought up a recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion in which conservative justices voted to overturn the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed a person’s right to an abortion at the federal level.
The senators warned that hundreds of thousands of troops, dependents and Defense Department civilians stationed in states with abortion bans would lose access to reproductive health care and potentially face criminal prosecution if the Supreme Court’s final opinion is similar to the leaked draft.
“As the leader of our military services, it falls upon you to preserve the health and welfare of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians,” the senators wrote. “With our country facing the likely rollback of personal rights, what are you and your staff doing in preparation to protect the health and welfare of those under your command? What steps will you take to assist service members in need of an abortion?”
The senators advised Austin to “at a minimum” consider policy changes that would allow service members to obtain “special liberty or permissive temporary additional duty permissions in order to travel out of state for reproductive health care and abortions” if they are stationed in a jurisdiction that restricts those rights.
“A soldier at Fort Drum would retain their personal autonomy while a soldier at Fort Hood would not. A service member raped by their supervisor in Mississippi, Kentucky, or Oklahoma would not be permitted to obtain an abortion in those states,” the senators wrote. “In places like Missouri, legislators have sought to ban abortions even for ectopic pregnancies, leaving a service member or their dependent facing a choice of death or criminal activity.”
“This outcome would violate the trust service members place in the Armed Forces when they swear an oath to defend the Constitution,” they continued.
In addition to Gillibrand, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Angus King (I-Maine). Gillibrand has a years-long history of pushing the Defense Department to better protect service members in the event of sexual assault.
A spokesperson for the Defense Department did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on the letter.
The letter came a day after Republicans again blocked the Senate from advancing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have codified Roe v. Wade.