Amid row with Schumer, Tuberville sticks to military promotion hold over Pentagon abortion plans

"The Biden administration wants abortion on demand for not just those enlisted in our military, but their family members as well," he said.

Updated: March 29, 2023 - 3:34pm

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Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville is holding firm in his pledge to halt military nominations while the Pentagon pursues a plan to fund interstate travel for military members to obtain abortions in states where it is legal.

In February of this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a memorandum announcing that the Pentagon would pay for travel and paid time off for servicemembers and their family members who seek to get an abortion. Federal statute limits the Pentagon's ability to financially support abortions to instances of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother.

The Alabama Senator has contended that the Pentagon's plan is illegal and would result in an explosion of abortions that federal money partially enables.

In recent years, the Department of Defense supported an average of fewer than 25 abortions per annum, but Tuberville has pointed to estimates indicating that figure is likely to rise dramatically under the new guidelines.

"Federal law only allows the military to provide abortions in very narrow circumstances: rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother," he said on the Senate floor last week. "Yet, the Biden administration has turned the DoD into an abortion travel agency. They did it using a memo."

"The Biden administration wants abortion on demand for not just those enlisted in our military, but their family members as well," he continued. "This would expand the policy to millions of people. Now American taxpayers are on the hook to cover non-chargeable paid time off, and travel costs for abortions for our military and their families."

Following the issuing of the February DOD memo, Tuberville made good on a pledge to stall military nominations over the policy. His office estimates that his hold has affected two civilian nominations and 158 generals and flag officers.

Strictly speaking, Tuberville cannot unilaterally block all of the Pentagon's military nominees. Rather, his refusal to grant his support means that the Senate may not approve such nominations in batches by unanimous consent and must instead schedule time to hear each case individually.

Austin fumed on Tuesday that Tuberville's actions would undermine military readiness.

"Not approving the recommendations for promotions actually creates a ripple effect in the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to The Hill. "The effects are cumulative and it will affect families, it will affect kids going to schools... it’s a powerful effect and it will impact our readiness."

Tuberville, for his part, has contended that the Pentagon ought to address the threat to military readiness posed by an ongoing recruitment shortage. He further asserted that Austin's launch of the policy usurped the authority of Congress.

"This goes beyond the law. We’ve still got a constitution in this country," he said on the floor. "And the Constitution is clear: Congress makes the laws, the executive branch enforces the laws. Secretary Austin seems to think he can make or change the law without going through Congress."

"It would be irresponsible for the United States Senate to allow an administration walk all over the Legislative Branch. Secretary Austin cannot change the law by memo. Congress cannot be replaced by a post on the Department of Defense website," the Republican lawmaker asserted.

His delay tactics have caught the attention of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who would have to schedule floor time to consider each promotion individually to work around Tuberville's objections.

In Senate floor remarks on Monday, Schumer contended that his Republican colleague's actions are without precedent. 

"Blocking military choices is unprecedented—unprecedented. It hasn’t happened before and it could weaken our national security," he warned. "And the number of those who are blocked is going to grow even larger as new nominees are reported out of committee which they do regularly."

Several Democrats in recent years have either halted military nominations or threatened to do so in recent years. In 2020, Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth announced she would block Senate approval of over 1,100 military promotions until the Pentagon promoted Trump impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman.

More recently, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett, in January threatened to do so over the Pentagon's relocating U.S. Space Command HQ from Colorado to Alabama.

Tuberville has vowed to continue his hold of DOD nominees until the Pentagon either revises the policy or Congress changes the law to permit its continuance. 

"In December I warned the department that I would hold their nominees is they tried to force abortion on demand on our military. They did it anyway," he said. "The Department knew what the consequences would be. This was their choice."

"I will continue to hold these nominees until the Department of Defense follows the law — or congress changes the law. In the meantime, we should do our job and vote," he concluded.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.