Challenges rise to the Department of Veterans Affairs recently enacted abortion policy intended to provide access to abortion services at VA facilities, with both a lawsuit and a bill in Congress against the policy now filed.
On Tuesday, Republican members of the House and Senate introduced a resolution that would reverse the policy. The resolution was introduced under the Congressional Review Act, which means Republican senators could force a vote even if Democrats control the chamber.
Meanwhile, a VA employee in Texas filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging the policy violates her religious freedoms and asking the court to prevent its implementation at the facility where she works.
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The lawsuit and resolution are some of the first concrete steps taken since the VA began offering abortions earlier this year, prompting outcry and allegations from Republicans that the department was circumventing the law.
The VA announced in September that it would for the first time offer abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the life or health of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy.
The change came in response to the June Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to ban abortion.
The VA implemented the policy through the federal rulemaking process, and the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, allows lawmakers to override rules issued by federal agencies.
Under the ARC, senators can force a vote on a resolution to overturn a rule if they introduce it within 60 days of the rule being officially transmitted to Congress or the start of a new session of Congress , and at least 30 senators sign what is called a “request for discharge.”
Although there isn’t enough time to force a vote this session of Congress, the resolution’s main sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., plans to reintroduce it next year and garner signatures for the discharge petition then, a Tuberville aide confirmed to Military.com.
“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ interim final rule to provide taxpayer-funded abortions at its facilities is the latest subversion in a long line of actions by this administration that points to complete disregard of the law,” Tuberville said. in a press release. “It betrays the beliefs of many Americans who value the sanctity of life and don’t want their taxes to pay for abortions.”
In the House, the resolution is sponsored by Republican Representatives Michael Cloud of Texas; Mike Bost of Illinois, likely the next chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee; and Andrew Clyde of Georgia. Republicans will hold a majority in the House next year, improving the measure’s chances in the lower house.
The CRA also sets the bar for advancing the resolution in the Senate by a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most bills in the upper house. Still, Democrats will hold a 51-seat majority next year, and President Joe Biden would likely veto any resolution overturning the VA policy, meaning a two-thirds majority would be needed to pass the resolution.
Asked about the resolution, VA spokesman Terrence Hayes said the department remains committed to providing veterans with “the full range of reproductive health services to ensure their health and well-being.”
“It’s our commitment to women veterans, because they deserve nothing less than access to world-class reproductive health care when they need it most,” he said. “That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we’re going to deliver to VA.”
Meanwhile, a nurse practitioner at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Center in Temple, Texas, alleges the policy violates her religious freedoms because her beliefs prevent her from working “at a facility that provides abortion services.” for reasons other than to save life”. of the mother because, according to her, unborn babies are created in the image of God and must be protected,” according to her lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in Texas federal court on behalf of the employee, Stephanie Carter, by the conservative Christian legal group First Liberty Institute, which has also led legal challenges to other contentious Biden administration policies, such as than the military mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The lawsuit says Carter requested religious accommodation twice in October to exempt her from having to provide abortion medication or counseling. Her supervisor told her there was no process in place yet for religious accommodations and, after the second time, to “just wait,” according to the lawsuit.
“It is unconscionable that the Biden administration is forcing health care workers at VA facilities to violate their conscience,” Danielle Runyan, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “The VA should focus on caring for the men and women who bravely served to protect our country, not on performing illegal abortions.”
The lawsuit does not seek to stop the abortion policy nationwide, but rather seeks to prevent the policy from applying to Carter and the entire Temple VA establishment.
Hayes declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, but said VA Secretary Denis McDonough “made it clear to all employees that their religious beliefs are protected here at VA.”
“VA provides housing for VA employees who wish to opt out of providing abortion counseling or services,” Hayes said. “We are currently honoring waiver requests that go through VA supervisors. We have provided this information to all VA health care employees – including information on how to exercise these protections through the Office of the VA’s Diversity and Inclusion Management Resolution – and we encouraged employees to notify their supervisors of any waiver requests.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
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