Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Eighteen. That is the percentage of the House of Representatives who have served their country in the military, amounting to 80 members, three quarters of them Republicans, one quarter Democrats. What did the sixty-two House Republican veterans do July 13th for their country, to help the U.S. military, sworn to defend us from enemies foreign and domestic? Every Republican House veteran, along with every other Republican, voted to for an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill to limit access to abortion for military service members. The current policy in the military is to provide time off and cover the costs incurred by service members wanting or needing an abortion who have to travel out of state if the post where they are stationed is in a state which forbids women from receiving an abortion.
House Republicans also voted for an amendment to defund the military’s support for its transgender service members, removing the right of transgender members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to receive medical care, including hormone replacement therapy and gender transition surgery, which can currently be covered with a waiver.
Why does this matter? First, it is more evidence that the Republican Party is on a mission to ban abortion across the board in this country. Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the Democratic whip, told the House in a floor speech today, “The MAGA majority is using our defense bill to get one step closer to the only thing they really care about: a nationwide abortion ban.”
The military policy on covering costs associated with travel to receive an abortion is a recognition that service members do not get to choose where they are stationed in the military. If they are assigned to Fort Moore in Georgia, for example, female members of the Army would have to travel to a state which allows abortion in order to receive one. The military holds that assignment to a base should not punish members who wish to receive an abortion. Some members of the military seek abortions because they have been raped, for example. The military policy which covers travel expenses and leave for abortion services away from a service member’s station allows women who have been raped, or women who want an abortion for other reasons, to travel to states where abortion is available.
Soon after he was elected, President Biden reversed Defendant Trump’s executive order banning transgender Americans from serving openly in the U.S. Military. Currently, about 15,000 transgender people serve in the military, according to a study based on Pentagon data done by the Palm Center in 2018. About 9,000 troops serve on active duty, with another 6,000 serving in the reserves. (Figures for transgender service members since Biden allowed them to serve openly are not yet available.)
In 2021, the last year for which figures were available, women made up just over 17 percent of the active duty military, 231,741 in all. According to the Brookings Institution, about 18 percent of those serving in the Army are women. This is a significant figure, because the Army is the service for which recruiting is most difficult and more likely to fail to reach its goals. For 2023, the Army will be short by 20,000 in its recruiting goals. The Army’s desired readiness figure is 485,000 active duty soldiers, meaning that they will have to make do with only 465,000 soldiers this year. The Army will be short about four brigades, nearly an entire division of soldiers this year because of failure to reach recruiting goals.
This isn’t a small problem. It’s a big one. This is the 50th year of the all-volunteer Army. Richard Nixon ended the draft in 1973, chiefly as a result of opposition to the war in Vietnam. Ever since, the Army, as well as the other military services, have had to recruit people to serve. Service in the Army or any of the other military services is not just a job. It is a commitment to serve your country in whatever capacity you are called upon to serve. If you are sent into combat—we still have troops in Iraq and some in Syria—you don’t get a choice about whether you want to go or not. You go. If you are sent to the border between South and North Korea, a hot spot ever since the cease fire was signed 70 years ago this month, you must pack up your gear and get on a military aircraft and go.
There was a lot of opposition when women were integrated into the military services in 1976. There was at least an equal amount of opposition to allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the Army and other services when the end of don’t ask don’t tell was passed in 2010. And yet an American military without female or gay soldiers, sailors, airmen or airwomen or marines is not just unthinkable, but impossible. What would the Army, for example, do without the 84,000 women who serve in its ranks? What would they do without the gay and transgender soldiers who serve their country effectively and honorably as soldiers?
All the services would be severely damaged if women and gay and transgender people were not allowed to serve. The word the military uses for it is “readiness.” The readiness of the military services to go to war if necessary for the country would be severely, even fatally, damaged. Lives would be lost if there were not enough troops in each of the services, and it is an undeniable fact in 2023 that this country would not be able to field an effective Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines without the women and gay and transgender people who currently serve.
And yet, what did House Republicans do Thursday? They sent a message to women and to transgender people serving in the military that they don’t matter to this country. Women are not worth as much as men, and transgender people aren’t worth as much, either. If you don’t think that civilian women and transgender people won’t get that message, you’re wrong. That means it will be that much more difficult for each of the military services to recruit new members.
If you were a woman and you were thinking about enlisting in, say, the Army, would you like it if the United States Congress told you that if you want, or need, an abortion, and you’re serving in Mississippi, or Louisiana, or Alabama—all states with large military bases—you won’t be given leave to travel out of state, and you’ll have to come up with the extra travel expenses necessary yourself? Or if you’re transgender, you’ll be eligible for all health care services except the one that probably matters to you the most, the health care associated with the fact that you are transitioning, or have transitioned?
There are words for the kind of thinking behind the votes by House Republicans today. Ignorant is one, so is myopic. If they think their only duty as members of the House of Representatives is to appeal to their right-wing voters who oppose abortion and transgender people, and to hell with military readiness and defending the country, then they don’t belong in the Congress of the United States. They are not living up to the oath they took to the Constitution, and they are not living up to protecting those who took an oath to defend this country with their lives.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.