OAKLAND, October 11, 2022 – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a multistate coalition of 23 attorneys general in filing a comment letter supporting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) interim final rule that removes exclusions on abortion counseling and establishes broader access to abortion care for veterans and their beneficiaries. The VA’s new interim final rule, ‘”Improving Access to Abortion and Abortion Counseling for Veterans and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) Beneficiaries,” will permit veterans and their families to access abortion counseling for all pregnancies and access abortion services in situations where the patient’s life or health is threatened, as well as in cases of self-reported rape or incest. In the comment letter, the attorneys general support the VA’s efforts to increase reproductive freedom by removing barriers to essential medical care.
“Service members make incredible contributions and sacrifices for our nation. It’s essential that we have their backs and ensure they can access necessary healthcare services — including abortion care,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We applaud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ new rule, which expands access to reproductive healthcare services and counseling for veterans and their families. As anti-choice states across the nation move to ban and criminalize abortion, California will continue to fight to protect reproductive freedom and expand essential healthcare for our military community and beyond.”
On September 2, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the VA announced an interim final rule regarding abortion. The rule amends the VA’s medical regulations to remove the exclusion on abortion services and establish exceptions to the exclusion on abortion in the medical benefits package for veterans and for CHAMPVA beneficiaries. Since the Dobbs decision, at least 14 states have banned or restricted abortion care, while others are still proposing new restrictions. The rule explains that these restrictions put at risk “the lives and health of pregnant veterans and CHAMPVA beneficiaries in these States.” In response, the VA rule seeks to ensure that veterans and their families, regardless of their state of residence, may obtain medically necessary abortion care when the life or the health of the pregnant veteran would be endangered or if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.
In the comment letter, the coalition of attorneys general express their strong support for the VA’s effort to remove barriers to this essential medical care. The rule fills a significant gap in healthcare for an important population, offering veterans and their families access to the same healthcare services available to many civilians. The rule will impact an estimated 53%, or more than 240,000, U.S. service members and veterans of reproductive age living in states that have already banned abortion or are likely to soon ban abortion. Veterans of reproductive age, in particular, have high rates of chronic medical and mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, severe hypertension, and renal disease — all of which could increase the health risks associated with pregnancy. It is critical that these veterans are provided with the tools to protect their lives and wellbeing, including a full range of reproductive care and counseling, and medically necessary abortion care.
The coalition of attorneys general also contend that the VA’s rule is a necessary step to alleviate the strain on the healthcare infrastructure of states that protect abortion. States like California have become havens for those in need of abortion services. Even before the overturn of Roe v. Wade, abortion restrictions in other states forced many pregnant people to travel out of state for care. In 2021, approximately one-in-10 abortions were performed on pregnant individuals who had traveled across state lines to obtain abortion care. When more severe abortion restrictions took effect after Dobbs, women from anti-choice states began crossing state lines in even greater numbers, crowding waiting rooms in pro-choice states and leading to longer waiting times for this time-sensitive care. By expanding access to abortion, even if just for veterans and their family members, the VA rule will greatly assist pro-choice states in addressing this rapidly expanding need, and protecting the health of their residents.
In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
A copy of the comment letter is available here.