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Republicans Use Defense Bill to Restrict Abortion, Gender-Affirming Care for Service Members

Republicans Use Defense Bill to Restrict Abortion, Gender-Affirming Care for Service Members

U.S. House

GOPers like to say they “support the troops,” but when it comes down to it, they don’t support certain troops.

Amid contentious debate and controversial amendments addressing Republican culture wars and social issues, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the sweeping defense policy bill in a party-line vote Friday.

In response to conservative hard-liners’ amendments targeting abortion policy, transgender health care access, and diversity and inclusion programs, Democrats and some moderate Republicans objected, but the measures ultimately passed. A fierce battle will now be fought in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Because it sets policy and funds the Department of Defense, the National Defense Authorization Act is considered critical legislation. It took the House until almost midnight Thursday to approve amendments, including removing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and personnel from the Department of Defense, a move anathema to Democratic values.

In the current political climate, the NDAA, passed every year by Congress for six decades, faces uncertainty as Senate and House priorities clash.

In the Senate, the NDAA is expected to be taken up for a procedural vote on Tuesday. The Senate’s bill and the House’s bill must be reconciled.

Four Republican members voted against the bill that passed the House: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Eli Crane of Arizona, and Tom Massie of Kentucky.

There were four Democratic “yes” votes: Jared Golden of Maine, Donald Davis of North Carolina, Gabriel Vasquez of New Mexico, and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Ralph Norman proposed eliminating all DEI personnel and programs at the Pentagon. This amendment passed 214-213 after initially failing 216-216.

The House also approved an amendment Thursday evening barring service members from receiving reimbursements for abortion expenses. In advance of the vote, many Democrats said they would oppose the defense bill’s passage if the amendment is included.

As a result of concerns about the Pentagon’s abortion policy, Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville has blocked the Senate from passing nominations and confirmations for military positions.

A House amendment also barred insurance coverage for gender-affirming care for transgender service members enlisted to defend the rights of Americans. There has been a relentless campaign by Republicans to eliminate medically necessary and widely endorsed services for transgender people. Previously, they focused on gender-affirming care for minors but now have tried to prohibit transgender health care universally.

Also passing was Rep. Lauren Boebert’s amendment to ban Department of Defense Education Activity schools — schools attended by kids of military members overseas and on military bases in the U.S. — from purchasing or keeping “pornographic and radical gender ideology books.”

Across conservative school districts nationwide, right-wing extremists seek to ban books written by or about LGBTQ+ people.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a Democrat and Equality Caucus chair, slammed the passage of the bill.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans continued their relentless attacks on LGBTQ+ people today by using the National Defense Authorization Actto push their anti-equality agenda,” he said in a statement. “They showed their complete disregard for our LGBTQ+ servicemembers by adopting amendments that strip medically-necessary care from transgender servicemembers and their families, censor LGBTQ+ servicemembers by prohibiting the display of Pride flags, and ban books that include transgender people or discuss gender identity. These riders cannot stand, and my colleagues and I will use every tool to get them removed during conference.”

Vermont Rep. Becca Balint, an out Democrat, criticized House Republicans over these issues.

“This is a time when we come together to try to pass legislation to support our service members, and [Republicans] have made it hyperpartisan by inserting into it their culture wars and their bogus claims about ‘wokeism,’” she told The Advocate. “Service members, regardless of who they are, should get the health care they need, period. Full stop. That’s it.”

She added, “It is so disgusting to watch these extreme Republicans driving the policy of the Republican conference. They have made extreme positions mainstream now.”

Balint’s frustration is that Republicans are bullying vulnerable people by othering them and taking away their rights, she said.

However, she said that the GOP is up against those whose worldview is open and affirming to folks with diverse backgrounds.

“They want to erase the experiences of anyone who is not white and straight,” Balint said. “They would like to pass policy that makes it impossible for us to live our lives with dignity, with respect, with laws protecting us, and what they don’t understand is that we have built an incredible, vibrant coalition of groups who are standing together and we’re going to continue to bring more people into coalition with us.”

Balint noted that supporting the military had been a relatively bipartisan subject for years. Now that may be changing.

“Historically, we have been able to support our military, support our service members, and now they seem to be on the receiving end of this bogus 'anti-woke' narrative, which ultimately is going to make us less safe,” she said. “If we do not have a military that has the support and resources they need to support all service members, they are not going to be ready to defend and support our country. And that’s what is so dangerous about this path.”

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