For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: Ill Effects of Tuberville’s Abortion Protest Are Overblown.”
A misguided stunt by a single senator with extremist views on abortion is jeopardizing our national security and putting American lives at risk. The blockade on military promotions led by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R- Alabama, comes straight out of a far-right playbook that has long prioritized pregnancy over the lives and well-being of those seeking abortion care. But this time, it’s not just about pushing his ideology on unwilling women. It threatens our military readiness when significant foreign challenges are looming.
In protest of the Department of Defense’s policy of granting some support to members of the military who must travel to secure abortion care, Tuberville has used arcane Senate procedure to stall the president’s ability to fill hundreds of positions within the military. These delays are significant. As one example, because of the actions of the senator — who has never served in the military, despite claiming there is “nobody more military than me” — the Marine Corps is, for the first time in more than 100 years, without a permanent leader.
Tuberville has already single-handedly stalled nominations for 301 generals and admirals, and the Pentagon estimates that this number could increase to 650 by the end of the year. In addition to the Marine Corps, the Navy and Army are without permanent top officials. The service of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, will end in September and cannot be extended. These vacancies place unnecessary uncertainty on critical national security roles and send troubling signals to U.S. allies and adversaries; they undermine command authority at senior levels, making it more difficult for our military leaders to lead effectively. And they adversely affect morale at a time when the armed forces struggle with recruitment and retention, potentially affecting staffing for years to come.
Leaving key positions unstaffed is not the only way that Tuberville’s position — if he were to be successful in his quest — would leave the country and service members unprotected. The Defense Department reported 231,741 women served in 2021, accounting for 17.1 percent of its active-duty forces. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5.6 percent of servicewomen report unintended pregnancies annually. The policies that Tuberville is attempting to overturn, compounded with current healthcare access difficulties that many service members face across the board, will further restrict servicewomen’s access to reproductive care.
Approximately 46 percent of active-duty servicewomen are stationed in states that have outright banned or otherwise extremely restricted access to abortion. So, while the military is barred by statute from providing coverage for abortion care except in extremely narrow circumstances, the Pentagon policy of providing time off and support to travel long distances out-of-state for needed care is critical. Without these benefits, thousands of service members and dependents will suffer unnecessary burdens in making the best decisions for themselves about their families and future.
Making the military a place where service members are supported in being able to direct their own lives is fundamental to an inclusive military that is ready and able to serve today. Retention of service members is already dwindling — continuing to show respect for the ability of those who enlist and their dependents to be able to make deeply personal decisions could help change that now and for future military families.
Tuberville’s actions go beyond irresponsible; they are downright dangerous. It is unacceptable that a single senator endangers national security in his quest to conform the country to his own extreme political views.