Democratic-led Senate strips anti-abortion provisions from House defense bill

The Pentagon is seen on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in Washington. The Senate passed a defense policy bill Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, that authorizes the biggest pay raise for troops in more than two decades, but also leaves behind many of the policy priorities that social conservatives were clamoring for, making for an unusually divisive debate over what is traditionally a strongly bipartisan effort. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

An effort by Republicans in the House of Representatives to restrict access to abortion and reproductive health care for members of the U.S. military was successfully thwarted this week by the Democratic-led Senate. Nearly every member of the House GOP majority had voted on July 14 to include the restrictions in a must-pass annual Defense Department authorization bill.

Each year, Congress passes a National Defense Authorization Act to set spending levels and policy for the nation’s defense operations. While this process is usually bipartisan, this year House Republicans opted to pass a bill almost entirely along party lines, 219-210, with several provisions that advanced right-wing social policies. 
Their version of the bill included a proposed requirement that the Pentagon end its policy of granting paid leave and travel reimbursement for service members who need to travel to access abortion care or other reproductive health care. Republicans also sought to end the Pentagon’s diversity training efforts and to prohibit coverage of some medical care for transgender service members.

Wisconsin Republican Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Bryan Steil, Tom Tiffany, and Derrick Van Orden all voted for the partisan bill. Democratic Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan voted no.

The Biden administration warned that House Republicans’ attacks on abortion access would “impede the ability of all servicemembers to serve to their fullest capacity” and threatened that President Joe Biden would veto the bill if they were not removed.

The Democratic-led Senate unanimously approved its own version of the bill on July 27, with the anti-abortion language and other social issue riders removed. Senate Democrats insisted on the changes and kept the riders out of the final conference report, agreed to by representatives from both chambers on Dec. 6.

On Dec. 13, the Senate approved the final legislation 87-13.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson both voted in favor.

On Dec. 14, the House approved the bill 310-118.

The Biden administration has endorsed the bipartisan final version, and the president is expected to sign it.