The Pentagon abortion policy at the center of a bitter political fight that has jammed up hundreds of military promotions is likely to cost less than $1 million annually, according to a recent analysis published in a medical journal.
The low estimated cost relative to the Pentagon's more than $800 billion budget is unlikely to shift the political debate since opponents of Pentagon policy argue that not a single taxpayer dollar should go toward abortion-related expenses. But the analysis comes as the Senate has been scrambling to find a way to end the blockade Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has maintained on senior officer promotions for nearly nine months.
The Pentagon policy at issue covers travel and leave for service members seeking abortions. It was put in place after last year's Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization allowed states to ban the procedure, prompting concerns about access to reproductive health care for female service members who cannot choose where they are stationed.
In a letter published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a trio of public health experts found the amount of time service members will have to drive to get an abortion has ballooned following the Dobbs decision. In states that have banned the procedure, military personnel's median travel time to the nearest abortion facility rose from about 40 minutes pre-Dobbs to more than four hours post-Dobbs, according to the analysis.
Texas, which has 15 military installations, and Louisiana, which has four, saw the biggest jumps in travel time. Whereas prior to the ruling it took a service member in those states about 30 to 40 minutes to get the nearest abortion facility, it now takes about eight to nine hours, according to the analysis.
Based on the estimated travel times and the Pentagon's travel expense rates for this year, reimbursing a service member's travel could cost between $611 and $1,082 per abortion, the analysis said.
If up to 914 troops used the policy per year, that could cost $988,870 annually, the analysis said.
That calculation is likely an overestimate of how much the policy will cost because the number of troops who will file the expenses is expected to be lower. The authors used civilian rates of abortion to estimate how many service members might need to travel for an abortion, but the military historically has had a lower abortion rate than civilians.
And there has been anecdotal evidence that uptake has been low so far on a policy that requires service members to disclose to their commanders that they are seeking reproductive health care.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in September that he had received information that "approximately 12" women had used the Pentagon leave and travel policy, though he provided no elaboration on the source or reliability of the information.
The Pentagon has not disclosed how many service members have used the policy, saying the department expects to receive data from the military services on usage in January. But the department has acknowledged the number is likely low, with Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder saying in August that "the numbers are pretty small."
The Pentagon policy at the center of the fight covers fertility treatments in addition to abortion, but the abortion aspect has drawn the most attention.
In protest of the abortion policy, Tuberville has refused to allow quick confirmations for all one-star general and admiral nominees and above since late February.
"The only thing in this world I honor more than our military is the Constitution," Tuberville said earlier this month on the Senate floor after fellow Republicans confronted him about his holds. "I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military -- again, injects politics in our military -- from the White House and spends taxpayers' dollars on abortion."
The Senate has confirmed just six top military officers since Tuberville's hold began. As of last week, the Pentagon said 452 general and flag officers were still awaiting confirmation. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to consider a Democratic-sponored resolution intended to circumvent the standoff.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.