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VA Announces Final Rule on Abortion Policy

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a revised abortion policy on March 4, 2024. The policy is listed in a Final Rule published on FederalRegister.gov, with an “effective date” of April 3, 2024.

The new policy is controversial in some circles. Not all are happy with the VA’s efforts to bring the agency in line with what agency officials argue are 21st-century medical realities.

VA Interim Final Rule on Abortion Policy

The VA’s final rule on abortion care and other reproductive healthcare services is essentially the interim final rule (see below) published without any changes following a 30-day public commentary period.

During that commentary period, the Federal Register notes, “VA received 57,901 comments, many of which were supportive of the IFR. The vast majority of the comments were a type of duplicated form response, where some requested clarifications or suggested changes to the IFR…”,

As part of the final rule, the VA amended medical regulations to accomplish the following as published in the Federal Register. The VA will:

  • Remove the exclusion on abortion counseling in the medical benefits package.
  • Establish exceptions to the exclusion on abortions for veterans who receive care set forth in that package.
  • Remove the exclusion on abortion counseling.
  • Expand access for Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) beneficiaries

Related: Military Retiree and Veteran Military Benefits

VA Abortion Policy

On the morning of Monday, March 4, 2024, the VA official site included the following text about its abortion policy:

“VA is able to offer abortion counseling, and—in certain cases—abortions to pregnant Veterans.” The VA provides these services in cases where “the life or health of the pregnant Veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs also reminds, “VA beneficiaries enrolled in CHAMPVA also have access to these services.”

A Recent History of VA Abortion Policy

In a VA press release issued September 22, 2022, the VA announced an interim final rule “that will allow VA to provide access to abortion counseling and — in certain cases — abortions to pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries.”

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs went on the record about the decision, noting it was motivated by patient safety.

“Pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver,” according to a press release on VA.gov.

According to Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA’s Under Secretary for Health, the decision to publish this final rule came from veteran feedback.

Despite the assumptions some lawmakers opposed to the VA policy may have made to the contrary, the VA, “came to this decision after listening to VA health care providers and Veterans across the country, who sounded the alarm that abortion restrictions are creating a medical emergency for those we serve (emphasis ours.)”

What Motivated The VA Abortion Policy

Why did the VA take on such a politically difficult issue? The agency says it’s working to “guarantee Veterans and other VA beneficiaries abortion-related care anywhere in the country.”

And when performing controversial reproductive healthcare procedures at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility, “VA employees, when working within the scope of their federal employment, may provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions” according to VA.gov.

Related: Military Retiree and Veteran Military Benefits

Reproductive Healthcare and Safety for All Veterans

In the words of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the following factors are relevant to the health and safety of VA patients:

  • Restricting access to abortion care has well-documented adverse health consequences
  • Those consequences include increased risk of loss of future fertility, significant morbidity, or death.
  • Veterans are at an increased risk of experiencing pregnancy-related complications due to increased rates of chronic health conditions.
  • To protect the life and health of VA patients, “VA determined that it was necessary to provide access to abortion counseling and — in some cases — abortions.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not have a one-size-fits-all policy for what constitutes an endangerment of life and health; like many other medical issues this must be handled on a case-by-case basis taking individual circumstances into account.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a range of reproductive services, including fertility services, emergency contraceptives, and pregnancy-related emergency care.

Learn more about all reproductive health services offered at the VA at VA.gov/ReproductiveHealth.

 

About the author

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.