The Department of Veterans Affairs is providing abortion services and counseling to veterans and VA beneficiaries...for the first time in its history.
Tell me more.
The rule, which went into effect in September, comes more than two decades after the VA chose to exclude abortion from its medical benefits package. And is a direct response to the SCOTUS ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade — as well as the wave of state bans and restrictions triggered by the decision. According to the VA, that’s created “urgent risks to the lives and health of pregnant veterans.” So under the new policy, the VA’s health care system will offer abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when a pregnancy endangers a person’s “life or health.” (Worth noting: Veterans can be at greater risk of pregnancy-related complications due to higher rates of chronic health conditions.) Those services will even be offered to the estimated 155,000 veterans living in the 12+ states where abortion is banned (see: Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas) or heavily restricted (see: Georgia). And the historic change could benefit any of the approximately 300,000 veterans of childbearing age who are served by the VA.
What are people saying?
Some Republican lawmakers have threatened legal challenges, but the Justice Dept says the rule is a “lawful exercise of VA’s authority.” And the move has been widely celebrated by veterans and veterans’ advocacy orgs. That’s because multiple studies have documented the ways that the VA’s health care system has struggled to serve women — even though women are the fastest-growing group of veterans. Think: A lack of supplies (like privacy curtains) and equipment (like mammography machines), a shortage or total lack of onsite gynecologists, or even prosthetic limbs “designed for men.” To make matters worse, many women say they don’t feel comfortable going to the VA due to concerns about harassment.
Post-Roe, there are massive disparities in abortion access and care. Now, the VA is trying to close the gap for those who’ve risked their lives for our country — one that no longer gives people the constitutional right to agency over their bodies and reproductive care.
We asked two veterans and advocates to share their thoughts on the VA's new policy and the post-Roe world. Here are snippets of our conversations with retired Air Force Colonel Lorry M. Fenner, the director of government relations for the Service Women’s Action Network, and with Allison Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran and Operation Liberty co-founder.
Q: What was your reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe?
Jaslow: As a combat veteran, it has been a little hard to swallow. For this reason specifically: My country trusted me with life and death decisions in war. They trusted me with my troops’ lives in combat [and] millions of dollars of war-fighting equipment, but now no longer trusts me with decisions regarding my own body and health care?
Q: How has the SCOTUS ruling influenced your work?
Jaslow: Both my co-founders and I knew that this decision was going to uniquely impact the military veterans community...[because] women in the military can’t pick up and move their job location or choose where they’re going to be stationed.
Q: What was your reaction to the VA’s decision to provide some abortion services and counseling?
Fenner: We applaud the VA for taking this measure and including the health of the pregnant veteran and beneficiaries. We applaud that it starts with abortion counseling before you even get to care. It is a huge step forward, but it doesn’t cover everything that needs to be done now.
Q: What else could the VA do?
Fenner: [Expanding] other reproductive care like IVF. Right now that is very limited to heterosexual married couples who have combat injuries that prevent them from being pregnant. But both parties in that heterosexual relationship have to provide what they call gametes, which is the woman has to provide her own viable eggs and the man has to provide his own viable sperm. [Meaning, donor sperm or eggs aren’t covered.]
PS: To read more of our interviews with Lorry M. Fenner and Allison Jaslow, click here.
Read, Watch, Listen
Looking for recs to check out on Veterans Day? Dive into these books, pods, and docs about female veterans.
“Every Day Is a Gift” by Tammy Duckworth…in this memoir, the Iraq War vet and Illinois senator shares her remarkable life story — from growing up as a biracial child in Thailand, to losing both legs in combat, to being the first US senator to give birth while in office.
“Women of the Military”…hosted by an Air Force veteran, this podcast features interviews with women who’ve served in the military, both past and present.
“Served Like a Girl”...a moving documentary that follows the organizers and contestants of the Ms. Veteran America pageant, an annual event that raises awareness about homelessness among female veterans.
“A Higher Standard” by Ann Dunwoody…even if you’ve never served, you’re bound to learn invaluable life and leadership lessons from Dunwoody, the first woman to earn the rank of four-star general in the US Army.
“Soldier Girls” by Helen Thorpe...with the help of interviews, emails, diaries, and even therapists’ notes, Thorpe offers a raw, intimate look at the lives of three female soldiers — before, during, and after deployment.
“The Invisible War”…an Oscar-nominated exposé that documents the epidemic of rape in the US military, the cover-up of these crimes, and the need for cultural and structural change. The film centers on the survivors who share their stories.
“Glory in Their Spirit” by Sandra M. Bolzenius…a book about four Black Women’s Army Corps privates who risked their lives to get the same treatment as white service members during World War II.
“The Female Veterans Podcast”…through real conversations with vets, this podcast highlights the unique issues that women in the military face — whether during their time in service, their transition out of active duty, or beyond.
“Code Girls” by Liza Mundy…a deeply researched account that tells the story of the more than 10,000 American women who secretly served as codebreakers for the US Army and Navy in World War II. And how their work helped save countless lives.
“Beyond the Call” by Eileen Rivers…a riveting profile of three women who fought alongside their male counterparts — and worked with local Afghan women to gather intel on the Taliban.
Time to Start Shopping for…
The holiday season is fully underway, and that means we’re making our list and checking it twice. To help you find the perfect gift for everyone on yours, we’ve rounded up recs for every budget and giftee, including:
Here are today’s recs to help you live a smarter life…
1. A recap of allll the news that happened this week.This “Skimm This” ep, brought to you by our digital HQ (hi, Slack), runs through the latest headlines. And explains how theSkimm’s editorial team uses Slack to collaborate and brainstorm. Listen in.*
2. Advent calendars that are totally worth it. Because this childhood tradition will never get old. Check out options with artisanal coffee beans to ones for whiskey lovers. Best gift of the season, coming right up.
3.A cordless vacuum that’s basically a transformer. This eight-piece Dyson dust machine tackles everything from carpets, to hardwood, to tile floors. And shapeshifts into a handheld vac for those hard-to-reach places (hiii, car interiors). Autobots, transform, roll out, aaaaand snag it on sale at QVC.*
4. Jackets and tights to complete your holiday party outfit. If the weather outside is frightful, make sure you're prepped with warm outerwear and a cute pair of tights to prevent a chill. Cheers.
On Our Radar
Deals on select brands at Nordstrom, including Nike, Free People, and Steve Madden. Grab a new pair of sneaks or a cozy cardigan. The sale is your oyster.
The sickness we weren’t worried about this Thanksgiving: bird flu. But turkey shortages and inflation might mean turkey is off your table this year. On our new episode of “Skimm This,” we suggest some non-turkey dishes that’ll still say ‘swallow me, gobble me.’ You get the idea. Listen now.
theSkimm Loyalty Program
Holiday shopping season has arrived, and we’ve rounded up discounts from some of our fave retailers so Loyalty members can find the best gifts for everyone on their list — including themselves. Like subscription boxes for every interest, specialty hot sauce, customized pet portraits, and kitchen essentials. Plus lots more. Bringing the holiday cheer home in 3, 2, 1…
Skimm'd by: Maria del Carmen Corpus, Xian Chiang-Waren, Melissa Goldberg, and Clem Robineau
Design: theSkimm | Photos: Getty Images, Courtesy of Allison Jaslow & Lorry M. Fenner, Sephora, Glossier, Beautycounter