DALLAS — After Texas Republicans passed what at the time was the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, 33-year-old Sydney Chipman said she was scared.
“I told my partner, I don’t want to get pregnant in the state of Texas, because I don’t know that if something wrong or bad happened in the process of the pregnancy, that I would live and survive the outcomes of that,” Chipman told Spectrum News.
The Navy veteran, whose family has a long line of military service, said she felt relieved after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced its plan earlier this month to provide abortions to veterans and beneficiaries in cases of medical necessity, rape or incest. This, even in states like Texas with strict abortion bans and laws holding abortion providers liable. In the state, performing the procedure is a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
“I want veterans and their families and other service members to be able to have access to evidence-based care, free from politics or religious perspective,” Chipman said.
For Chipman, abortion rights are personal.
“I had an abortion following a sexual assault, and I just remember feeling so lonely, and sad and scared,” Chipman said. “Those nights that I wished that my pregnancy would end, I would sometimes find myself wishing that my life would end, too.”
Texas has more than 192,000 female veterans, according to the VA. That number is more than any other state.
In the weeks following the announcement, Biden administration officials are defending the policy change. Jen Klein, co-chair of the White House Gender Policy Council, told Spectrum News the administration conducted a “deep legal analysis and policy analysis.” Officials said they have consulted with the Justice Department and believe federal laws take precedent over state law for the VA’s authority.
“The secretary felt very strongly that we need to protect the health of the 300,000 women veterans who are of reproductive health age, who can no longer seek vital services in the states where they live. So that’s what’s happening at the Veterans Affairs Department. That’s very different from offering services at federal facilities to other people,” Klein said. “What the veterans doctors are doing, it’s within the scope of their federal job.”
Support for the policy change is falling along party lines. At a recent House Veterans Affairs committee hearing with VA leadership, Democrats largely defended the VA’s plan, while Republicans blasted the move as illegal.
Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, called the VA’s decision “cynical.” The fighter pilot served in the Navy for 20 years.
“This is a workaround for the federalization — using the VA as a mule — to legalize abortion paid for by the federal government,” Ellzey said. “This rule making is yet another example of this administration, using unelected bureaucracy to make law where it has no power to do so.”
While the Texas abortion ban’s only exception is to save the life of the pregnant patient, some abortion rights supporters and medical groups said the language has created confusion.
“This is not a hypothetical scenario. There are Texas women who’ve been turned away with life-risking conditions, because the hospital was worried that provided this care that they would be subject to criminal penalties, a felony, in fact,” Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, said. “It’s a decision that’s in the best interest for protecting our women veterans’ health, both physical and mental.”
Chipman is enrolled in the VA’s health care system and she said she currently gets contraception through the program. As she is pursuing a master’s degree to become a social worker, Chipman said she also supports how the agency is offering counseling services.
“The moral arguments of abortion are, are really irrelevant. And through that time really distracted me from the matter of the fact that having that abortion saved my life,” she said.
Some Republicans are already vowing to challenge the legality of this policy. VA officials said a formal implementation of the plan is under development but they expect helping with transportation services, ensuring access to medication abortion and increasing security at some sites.