In an internal government opinion, Justice Department attorneys said a recently adopted VA policy allowing employees to provide abortion services to veterans and their eligible relatives is legally sound and can continue. The Veterans Affairs Agency began offering abortions at its federal facilities earlier this month in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned the Raw vs. Wadeoverturned the right to terminate a pregnancy that had been under federal law for nearly 50 years.Read:5 Signs of Depression You Shouldn’t Ignore
1 in 3 American women have lost access to an abortion. More restrictive laws to come.
In some states, including Alabama, officials have threatened to punish veterans’ affairs workers who perform abortions, saying it violates state law. Alabama prohibits abortions in cases of rape and incest, but allows the procedure if the patient’s life is in danger. The opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — which serves as legal guidance on other agency policies — says states may not sanction any veterans doctor or nurse for performing an abortion under certain circumstances. Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the Justice Department will represent these medical workers if they are sanctioned for following their agency’s abortion guidelines.
“The rule is a legal exercise of VA power,” the opinion says. “Furthermore, states may not restrict the VA and its employees acting within their federal authority from providing abortion services as permitted by federal law, including the VA Rule.”Read:Simone Biles quashes retirement rumours as she ‘works on mental health’
The Justice Department opinion represents the Biden administration’s latest attempt to try to protect abortion access, to some extent, after the Supreme Court ruling, although it applies to a relatively small number of women because it only addresses rare conditions.
The United States has 19 million veterans, about 2 million of whom are women. About 9 million veterans are enrolled in VA care, along with their eligible family members. While the new abortion policy is an expansion of veterans’ health care benefits, the regulations are very similar to current care within the Department of Defense, which has provided abortions in military hospitals for years using the same standards. Active military care is not widely used, with fewer than twenty miscarriages on average each year, according to Pentagon data.
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The narrowness of both policies — which apply only to high-risk pregnancies or stem from rape or incest — underscore how little legal tools the Biden administration has had since then. Dobbs vs Women’s Health Jackson resolution. In August, the Ministry of Justice He persuaded the judge to block a portion of Idaho’s law criminalizing abortions to protect the health of the pregnant patient.Read:‘Stigma causing people with mental illnesses to hold back in life’
The Department of Justice suspended its lawsuit in Idaho on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Work Act. Officials say the federal law, known as EMTALA, requires hospitals participating in the federally funded Medicare program to provide necessary, health-proven treatment to all patients, even if that treatment is a miscarriage.
after, after Dobbs, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance to state officials and hospitals reminding them of the requirements imposed by Imtala, saying that abortions are considered a “stable treatment.” Texas successfully sued the government over this directive and the Justice Department said this month it intended to file an appeal. With conflicting rulings from Idaho and Texas, the question of whether EMTALA includes abortions will likely end up before the Supreme Court.
Gupta said in an interview Thursday that the Department of Justice is monitoring the development of state laws to ensure they do not conflict with what the Federal Law Enforcement Agency considers guaranteed federal rights. Gupta heads a reproductive rights task force launched by the Biden administration in July. It aims to mobilize federal resources to prevent abuses from state and local governments seeking new restrictions on abortion.
“We will not hesitate to act where we see violations of federal law,” Gupta said. “This remains a top priority for management.”
On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that a man had pleaded guilty to federal charges after smashing windows and destroying property at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Oregon.
In the Veterans Affairs view, the federal government argues that the Department of Veterans Health has a federal duty to provide appropriate medical care to the nation’s veterans. The 10-page opinion states that restricting access to abortion in specified circumstances would violate this mandate. He cites the Constitution’s “sovereignty clause,” which essentially states that when state laws conflict with federal laws, federal laws prevail.
Lawrence Justin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who has been pushing for the government to find legal ways to protect access to abortion, said he agreed with the Justice Department’s reading of Veterans Affairs policy.
“If federal law gives a right or even a duty to provide medical services, that supersedes any state law to the contrary,” Justin said. “A reasonable judge must support this view because the sovereignty clause makes it perfectly clear.”
Alex Horton contributed to this report.