Military Abortion Policy


Background: According to current law, Department of Defense funds may not be used to pay for abortions, except to save the mother’s life, and U.S. military facilities cannot be used to perform abortions, except to save the mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest (10 USC Sec. 1093(a)(b)). These restrictions on funding and use of facilities were placed in the U.S. Code in 1984 and 1996, respectively.

A ban on the use of facilities for elective abortions was first established as administration policy in 1988. President Clinton reversed the policy in 1993 but Congress restored it in 1995 in appropriation law, placing the policy in the U.S. Code in 1996. It has remained intact ever since. Efforts to overturn the restriction on use of facilities were made from 1996 to 2006, but all attempts failed. No efforts to remove the restriction were made in 2007, 2008, or 2009.

For NCHLA’s Fact Sheet on this issue, see:

Senate: An effort was again made to repeal that part of the military abortion policy banning the use of facilities.

            Committee: On May 27, 2010, during the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (S. 3454), Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) offered an amendment to strike from law the restriction on use of military health care facilities to perform elective abortions (10 USC Sec. 1093(b)). The Burris Amendment passed, 15-yes, 12-no. All Democrats voted “yes,” except Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who joined with 11 Republicans in voting “no.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) did not vote. See:

            In a June 17, 2010 letter to the U.S. Senate, the Most Reverend Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services, stated that the Burris Amendment “would contravene our military health care providers’ commitment to defending and protecting human life” and “would pressure military physicians, nurses and associated medical personnel to engage in an act of taking innocent human life.” Military medical personnel should be allowed to continue to abide by their commitment to save lives. 

            In a subsequent letter, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged that the authorization bill not be approved “until the original version of 10 U.S.C. §1093 is restored.”  He said it is not the task of the federal government “to directly promote and facilitate elective abortions,” and the longstanding ban on use of these facilities for abortion should be maintained. For text of letter, see: CardinalDiNardoMilitaryLetter.pdf.

            Floor: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture motion on the motion to proceed with consideration of S. 3454. On September 21, 2010, the Senate rejected the cloture motion, 56-yes, 43-no (Roll Call 238). (Sixty votes were needed for passage.) Sen. Reid voted “no” on the motion, which allowed him to make a motion to reconsider the vote. A vote on H.R. 3454 was delayed until a post-election lame-duck session.

            On December 9, 2010, Sen. Reid for the second time moved to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the consideration of S. 3454. That motion again failed, 57-yes, 40-no, 3-not voting (Roll Call 270).  (Sixty votes again were needed for passage.) Sen. Reid’s motion was nondebatable. The vote was along party lines, except that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) voted “yes” and Sen. Joseph Manchin (D-WV), a newly elected Senator serving out the term of former Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), voted “no.”

            On December 19, 2010, a new defense authorization bill passed by the House (H.R. 6523) was placed on the Senate calendar. This bill did not change the existing law governing military abortions.  On December 22, 2010, the Senate also passed H.R. 6523, with some amendments (not abortion related), and sent the bill back to the House.

House: On May 28, 2010, the House passed its National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 5136). The existing law concerning military abortions was not changed. 

On July 14, 2010, Reps. W. Todd Akin (R-MO) and Gene Taylor (D-MS), along with 178 other Representatives, sent a bipartisan letter to the leaders of House and Senate, urging them “to reject any language in the DOD Authorization bill for FY11 (or subsequent years) which would weaken or undermine current [abortion] policy.” See:

On December 17, 2010, under suspension of the rules (two-thirds vote required), the House approved a revised National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 6523). This bill also did not change the existing law concerning military abortions. On December 19, 2010, H.R. 6523 was placed on the Senate calendar. On December 22, 2010, that measure passed the Senate with amendments, and thereafter the amended bill was passed by the House, clearing the bill for the President’s signature.

Law: As passed, the Defense Authorization Act did not include the Burris Amendment. Existing law prohibiting the performance of abortions on request in military health care facilities continued in force.