Abortion counseling for women veterans proposed under new bill

Abbie Bennett
January 16, 2020 - 12:38 pm
VA Women Clinic

VA

Women veterans' health could be at risk if they can't get abortion counseling from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Congresswoman Julia Brownley.

Brownley, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Women Veterans Task Force, introduced the Reproductive Health Information for Veterans Act.

The proposed legislation would require VA to "provide abortion counseling to a veteran who has an unwanted pregnancy," the bill reads.

 That counseling will include:

  • Options for the veteran, including termination;
  • Accurate health information based on the health of the veteran;
  • Information regarding the location closest to the veteran's home where she may receive safe medical or surgical termination of the pregnancy.

In an interview with Connecting Vets, Brownley said the bill was inspired by her work on the Women Veterans Task Force, whose goal this Congress, she said, is to "provide parity in all kinds of services to our women veterans across the country."

The lack of abortion counseling is an issue that "has been out there for a really long time and we continue to hear from women veterans as we do visits across the country."

Brownley called the bill an "obvious first step in bringing some parity to (women veterans') reproductive health.

"It is a barrier where, quite frankly, VA is saying, 'No, we cannot provide abortion counseling,'" Brownley said. "Withholding it is discriminatory, I believe, but it's also very much a health risk. Certainly, without counseling, you could endanger the woman's health and her safety and in the worst-case scenario, her life. It's just really very important that women veterans are receiving that information so they can make the most informed decisions."

A lack of counseling at VA could also increase veterans' out-of-pocket costs, she said. 

Brownley and her staff have had discussions with VA about the bill, and she said she's hopeful.

"For the abortion counseling, VA could have taken that on as a policy change internally within the organization," she said. "VA came back to us and said (they) think this needs to be a Congressional act, instead. They were pretty explicit about it. I hope that comment means they're open to the idea. If VA were listening to practitioners and veterans across the country, they would say obvious change needs to happen." 

VA medical benefits specifically exclude abortions of any kind for veterans, "per federal law," VA spokeswoman Susan Carter told Connecting Vets. 

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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