By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Department of Defense will continue to allow medical facilities on military bases to perform limited abortions regardless of the reproductive health policy of the jurisdiction where they are stationed.
Gilbert Cisneros Jr., the defense undersecretary for personnel, said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization which overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade doctrine, "does not prohibit the department from continuing to perform 'covered abortions,' consistent with federal law."
"There will be no interruption to this care. Health care providers will continue to follow existing departmental policy, and the leadership of military medical treatment facilities will implement measures to ensure continued access to care," Cisneros said in a June 28 memo.
Cisneros said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "has made clear: nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our service members, the civilian workforce and DoD families, and we are committed to taking care of all of our people and ensuring that the entire force remains ready and resilient."
At least 13 states have moved to ban abortion following the Dobbs ruling that leaves policy decisions to individual jurisdictions.
Although abortions of some form remain legal on Guam, the recent court ruling has prompted local policymakers and legal experts to revisit the territory's reproductive health-related statutes including a voided 1970 law that sought a total ban on abortion on island.
In January 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Guam challenging portions of a 1978 law and other informed consent statutes that restrict abortion procedures to a clinical or hospital setting. A partial settlement has been reached.
"The case remains before the Ninth Circuit but was stayed pending the Dobbs decision," Attorney General Leevin Camacho said in a statement. "The Office of the Attorney General is reviewing Guam’s abortion laws and court orders in related litigation to determine the current state of the law in the wake of Dobbs and will take appropriate legal action."
In his memo, Cisneros said it is the Department of Justice's longstanding position that states generally may not impose criminal or civil liability on federal employees.
"The implications of the Supreme Court's decision are complicated and must be evaluated against various state laws, together with the views of the Department of Justice," he said.
Cisneros said the Pentagon is reviewing its current policies and procedures and will assess the impact of defense policies on state laws triggered by the Dobbs ruling on DoD personnel and beneficiaries.
"Federal law restricts the department from performing abortions or paying to have them performed unless the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest ("covered abortions")," Cisneros said.
"We will work with the Department of Justice to ensure access to counsel for such civilian employees and service members if needed and as appropriate," he said.