White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Monday passionately defended the Pentagon’s policy of paid leave and travel reimbursement for abortions, calling it the right thing to do for Americans who volunteer to serve in the U.S. military.
“You go where you’re told, that’s the way orders work,” Kirby told reporters. “What happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place? And you’re concerned about your reproductive care? What do you do? Do you say no and you get out? Well, some people may decide to do that, and what does that mean? That means we lose talent, important talent.”
“It can have an extremely, extremely significant impact on our recruiting and our retention,” he added. “It’s just the right darn thing to do for people who raise their hand and agree to serve in the military.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has blocked the Senate from approving more than 250 military promotions in protest of the Defense Department’s policy.
Kirby was asked why the abortion policy is critical to military readiness and responded, “I’m really glad you asked that question. I mean, I really am.”
The spokesman said that he met a couple weeks ago with female military members and female military spouses at the White House.
He said they told him that restrictive abortion laws across the country, which have been passed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, “are absolutely having an effect on their willingness to continue serving in uniform or to continue to encourage or discourage their spouses from continuing service.”
“If you don’t think there’s going to be a retention and a morale issue, think again because its already having that effect,” he added.
He noted that one in five members of the U.S. military are women and stressed that it is an all-volunteer force. He also acknowledged that he has a son and son-in-law serving in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va.
“When you sign up and you make that contract, you have every right to expect that the organization — in this case, the military — is going to take care of you and they’re going to take care of your family. And make sure that you can serve with dignity and respect no matter who you are or who you love or how you worship or don’t,” he said.
“Our policies, whether they’re diversity, inclusion, and equity or whether they’re about transgender individuals who qualify physically and mentally to serve to be able to do it with dignity,” he added. “Or whether it’s about female servicemembers, one in five, or female family members being able to count on the kinds of health care and reproductive care specifically that they need to serve.”
He said making sure female servicemembers and military families have reproductive care is “a foundational sacred obligation of military leaders.”
Tuberville has claimed the Pentagon’s abortion policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds for abortions. Biden last week lambasted Tuberville’s hold, calling it a “bizarre” position that is “jeopardizing U.S. security.”
When asked on Monday if Biden would sit down with Tuberville, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that is a question for the senator.
“We’re not the problem here, we’re not causing this. This is the senator that’s causing this,” she said.
The House last week voted to adopt an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would reverse the Pentagon’s abortion policy. Only two Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and John Duarte (R-Calif.) — opposed that amendment, and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) voted “yes.”
Such measures are significantly less likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.