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Pentagon statement on SCOTUS abortion ruling mischaracterized

Not Real News

U.S. Secretary for Defense Lloyd J. Austin III arrives for a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, June 16, 2022. 

CLAIM: The Pentagon stated that any abortion laws enacted as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will not be recognized.

THE FACTS: This mischaracterizes a June 24 statement on the ruling from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, which did not say the Pentagon would defy the court, nor did it say it would violate any state laws that may be enacted. Misleading posts about the Pentagon’s response spread widely online shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its decision on abortion. While many popular posts did not share a source for the information, some vaguely cited news articles describing Austin's statement.

“Nothing is more important to me or to this Department than the health and well-being of our Service members, the civilian workforce and DOD families,” read the statement, which as of this week was the only official communication from the Pentagon on the matter. “I am committed to taking care of our people and ensuring the readiness and resilience of our Force. The Department is examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law."

The Twitter account BNN Newsroom on June 25 wrote in a since-deleted post that, “The Pentagon has stated that any abortion laws enacted as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision will not be recognized.”

BNN did not respond to a request for comment. Later that day, the Twitter account Occupy Democrats also misinterpreted the content of the Pentagon release, tweeting, “President Biden’s Pentagon defies the extremist Supreme Court, announces that it will not recognize any anti-abortion laws enacted by states as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Occupy Democrats followed up with a tweet on June 26 linking to an article about Austin’s statement with the caption “source.” However, the brief article also did not suggest the statement meant the Pentagon was defying the court. Occupy Democrats did not return requests for comment.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz told the AP that claims the Pentagon is “ignoring the law are completely false.” He pointed to Austin’s statement, which he said was “the only statement made regarding the court cases,” but declined to comment further.

The court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. Kyndra K. Rotunda, a Chapman University professor who runs the school’s Military and Veterans Law Institute, said the claims circulating online did not appear to be correct, adding that she saw no evidence in the statement, or otherwise, that the military would “refuse to follow state law.”

“I read Secretary Lloyd’s statement to mean no more than what he says: they’re going to explore it further,” Rotunda wrote in an email to the AP. TRICARE, the health care program for service members, retirees and their families, covers abortions in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is in danger. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website states that “Under current regulation, VA doesn’t provide abortion or abortion counseling.” Under existing federal law, a military member can seek an abortion outside of a military facility, in accordance with state law where they are located, but the Pentagon will not fund or perform the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is in danger, Rotunda explained.

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