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A sharply divided U.S. House voted Thursday to amend the annual defense policy bill to ban a Biden administration policy that allowed service members to be reimbursed for abortion-related travel and other expenses.
U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, introduced the amendment with the backing of Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, and 70 other Republican co-sponsors.
Jackson argued that the Department of Defense policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for abortion.
“I absolutely will not waver in my defense of the rule of law, therefore, ensuring that taxpayer money does not kill innocent babies,” Jackson said on the House floor.
Reimbursing service members for abortion-related travel if they live in states where abortion is not available recently became an issue in the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Tommy Tuberville. R-Alabama, has held up 250 military promotions in protest, creating a backlog and leaving key positions unfilled.
Adding Jackson’s amendment — and several others that were adopted Thursday, including limits on gender-affirming care — jeopardized bipartisan support for the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress has annually adopted for more than 60 consecutive years. The proposed 2024 NDAA would authorize $886.3 billion in national defense spending, including additional resources for Ukraine as well as quality-of-life improvements for service members, such as a 5.2% pay raise.
The defense bill passed Friday on a 219-210 vote, with four Democrats voting in favor and four Republicans voting against.
Republicans’ narrow majority in the House forced leadership to accept the demands of its more conservative wing and allow votes on several hot-button amendments, including two from Roy adopted Thursday that would limit federal spending on Defense Department diversity initiatives. Another Roy amendment, prohibiting the department from carrying out President Joe Biden’s executive orders on climate change, was added Friday.
The lone Democratic vote for Jackson’s abortion amendment came from Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Cuellar, considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, is a longtime opponent of abortion rights.
Other Texas Democrats opposed the amendment, expressing concern about its impact on service members. The Biden administration policy was aimed at lowering barriers to abortion for service members in states with restrictive abortion laws.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called the amendment a “backdoor effort” to ban abortion at the federal level.
After the amendment was adopted on a 221-213 vote, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, spoke on the House floor to criticize Republicans for bringing partisan issues into a typically bipartisan process.
“In 2021, women made up more than 17% of our active-duty force — 231,000 members — and 21% of our National Guard and Reserves. More than 23,000 of them are stationed in Texas. Every day the women of the United States military fight for our freedom, and yet today House Republicans are asking these women to fight for your freedom while they just voted to take away theirs,” Fletcher said.
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