July 29, 2022

ICYMI: Warren, Hirono Lead 23 Senators to Urge VA to Immediately Begin Offering Abortion Services to Veterans and Eligible Dependents

Millions of veterans live in states where right to abortion remains uncertain following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) led 23 of their colleagues in a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), calling on the VA to take immediate administrative action to offer abortions and all abortion-related services to veterans and eligible dependents. Almost 400,000 women veterans of reproductive age live in states that are certain or likely to ban abortions following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade.

A total of 25 senators – half of the Senate Democratic Caucus – signed the letter. In addition to Senators Warren and Hirono, the letter is also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Last month’s disastrous Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned the nearly fifty-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade and removed constitutional protection for abortion access from millions of individuals in this country, including an ever-growing number of veterans and dependents who are able to become pregnant,” wrote the senators. “This decision makes it even more critical that veterans receive access to the reproductive care to which they are entitled. Thus, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently begin rulemaking to allow veterans and eligible dependents to receive abortions and all abortion-related services.”  

Under current VA regulations, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is prohibited from providing abortions and abortion counseling as part of the medical benefits package. But the law also makes clear that the VA Secretary “shall furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed.” In a letter sent to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, the members argue that because the VA has the statutory authority to provide abortions, they must immediately begin a rulemaking process to change the current regulations to provide abortion and abortion-related services. The letter highlights that Secretary McDonough also recently expressed that the VA has the statutory authority to provide abortions. 

“We contend that the VA has the statutory authority and discretion to provide abortions and abortion-related services and resources,” continued the lawmakers. “The VA’s authority to provide care to veterans is established in the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996. That statute provides that the VA Secretary ‘shall furnish hospital care and medical services which the Secretary determines to be needed’ to certain veterans. Importantly, the VA has used its authority under the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 to provide reproductive care such as pregnancy care and infertility services, even though such care was initially excluded from the health care packages allowed under the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992.”

As reproductive health care is under attack from the Supreme Court and right-wing state legislatures, Senator Warren has called on the government to use every tool to protect reproductive care and freedom:

  • On July 19, 2022, Senators Warren, Murray, and Smith led a group of their Democratic colleagues in introducing the Expanding Access to Family Planning Act, a bill to protect access to critical reproductive health care services—like birth control, cancer screenings, and more—by providing a consistent and strong source of funding for the Title X Family Planning Program.
  • On July 14, 2022 Senators Warren, Booker, Padilla, and over a dozen other Senate Democrats wrote to President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, urging them to immediately declare national and public health emergencies over Americans’ access to reproductive care.
  • On July 7, 2022, Senators Warren and Klobuchar sent letters to Facebook and Instagram, calling on them to address their reported censorship of posts related to abortion services, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month.
  • On July 7, 2022, Senator Warren announced two key data brokers’ commitments to permanently stop selling the location data of people seeking abortion services.
  • On June 23, 2022, Senators Warren and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, legislation that would crack down on false advertising that crisis pregnancy centers employ to dissuade patients from getting the reproductive care they need, including abortion care. 
  • On June 22, 2022, following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Senators Warren and Smith wrote an op-ed in the New York Times laying out the next steps in the fight to protect the right to an abortion, including calling for the declaration of a public health emergency.
  • On June 15, 2022, Senator Warren introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act, legislation that bans data brokers from selling some of the most sensitive data available about everyday Americans: their health and location data. 
  • On June 7, 2022, Senators Warren and Murray led 23 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to immediately issue an executive order directing the federal government to develop a national plan to defend Americans’ fundamental reproductive rights, including their right to an abortion.
  • On May 17, 2022, Senator Warren led thirteen of her Senate colleagues in letters to two data brokers demanding answers regarding their collection and sale of the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood. 
  • On May 10, 2022, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate on the need to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and fight back against Republican extremism. 
  • On May 9, 2022, Senator Warren wrote an op-ed in Marie Claire about the need to enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law. 
  • On May 3, 2022, when the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, Senator Warren spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court twice to activists, protestors, and the nation about the need to protect abortion rights. 
  • On April 28, 2022, Senator Warren delivered a floor speech to fight against Republican efforts to undermine the Title X program and threaten Americans' access to birth control, cancer screenings, HIV tests, and other health care.