Two Republican senators thwarted a bipartisan effort Wednesday to overturn the Biden administration’s policy that allows the Veterans Administration to perform taxpayer-funded abortions.
The move to rescind the VA’s new abortion policy was rejected on a vote of 51 to 48, when Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined all but one Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — in voting against the proposal.
The resolution had been unlikely to become law, because it lacked the votes to override a threatened veto by President Biden. The White House said Wednesday the legislation “invites political interference into deeply personal decisions made by pregnant veterans and … beneficiaries in consultation with their health care providers, threatening their health and lives.”
The legislation “would mean that veterans who are raped would not have access to the care they need,” the Office of Management and Budget said.
The Senate floor fight is the latest sign that the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration are being drawn more deeply into the national debate over the proper restrictions on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year striking down Roe v. Wade.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced last fall in the wake of the Roe decision that the Pentagon would continue to offer reproductive health services, including access to abortion, to members of the military and even pay for service members to travel for abortion care if they are based in a state that forbids or severely restricts the package. Prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill have vowed to fight what they say is a “woke” policy from the Pentagon that conflicts with longstanding federal guidelines on abortion.
Wednesday’s resolution under the Congressional Review Act required only a majority vote in the Senate to pass.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican and a lead sponsor of the measure, said the VA’s policy is illegal because Congress has long blocked the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.
“It’s wrong, and it’s an abuse of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Tuberville said. “The administration needs to follow the law.”
He said the administration is the Supreme Court ruling as an “excuse” to expand abortion services. The lawmaker has already been blocking the quick confirmation of scores of senior military officers in the Senate in a bid to force a vote on the Pentagon’s new abortion guidelines.
The VA has provided 34 abortions since September, and the agency estimated that the policy will cost taxpayers about $2.1 million in the first year.
Mr. Manchin, who voted for Mr. Tuberville’s proposal, said the administration’s policy violates the Hyde Amendment, legislation that annually prohibits federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.
“If this is to be changed, it should be voted upon,” Mr. Manchin said.
The White House said the VA policy “was a direct response to abortion restrictions that were creating serious risks to the life and health of our nation’s veterans.”
“Access to world-class reproductive health services is essential for preserving the life and health of veterans and … beneficiaries,” said the statement from OMB.
Ms. Murkowski told Military.com she opposed the resolution because she believed the VA policy as drafted did conform to the guidelines in the Hyde Amendment.
A lawsuit in federal court in Texas is also seeking to overturn the VA policy. Stephanie Carter, a VA employee and a Christian nurse practitioner, says that being asked to administer abortions in cases other than to protect the life of the pregnant patient violates her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Alan Albright, who was nominated by President Donald Trump.