When we raised our right hands and put on the uniform, a shared love of country brought people from all backgrounds together. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we fought alongside service members from every race, gender, and political affiliation — and we had each other’s backs. We still do.
Our armed forces are the standard bearer for American values and principles around the world, and those who serve reflect the nation’s rich diversity of thought, background, and experiences. This diversity makes our military the world’s strongest and most lethal fighting force.
However, some politicians have not only begun to disparage our service members and undermine our top military leaders, but they’ve also set their crosshairs on some of the same service members we fought beside and to whom we all owe a tremendous debt.
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling last year in Dobbs v. Jackson, overturning Roe v. Wade, thousands of women in service were stripped of access to abortion care. In the year since, 14 states have made abortion illegal, according to the Center for Reproductive rights.
Let’s talk about how these restrictive laws threaten our national security.
When people decide to serve, they take the same oath we took — the same oath millions of others have taken over our nation’s history. You raise your right hand, go to boot camp, get trained on your job, and go where the nation needs you. You don’t have a choice about where you go to serve — that’s part of the deal.
More than 230,000 women and 14,000 LGBTQ+ people serve in our armed forces today, meaning thousands of active duty service members stationed in states with restrictive laws are feeling the brunt of extreme politicians’ efforts to limit their freedoms. The last thing we want to see is accomplished service members separating from service early after being assigned to a duty station where they and their dependents cannot access the healthcare they need.
In the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros testified to Congress that, “some servicemembers may choose to leave the military altogether because they may be stationed in states with restrictive reproductive health laws.”
Retention isn’t the only place our armed forces will suffer because of these extreme laws restricting service members’ freedoms — recruitment will suffer too. Roughly three-quarters of young people believe abortion should be legal. How can we expect recruitment numbers to increase if prospective service members fear being stationed in an area where they’ll be treated like second-class citizens?
Personnel is the most important aspect of readiness. As recruitment and retention continue to fall, so does the military’s ability to meet the force requirements necessary to respond to any threat. Service members should be able to focus solely on their mission, not be forced to worry about whether they or their loved ones at home can access the health care they need.
Thankfully, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and the Department of Defense acted in the best interest of our national security by protecting access to health care — including reproductive care — for service members and their families, regardless of where they’re stationed. This decision wasn’t driven by politics or the loudest voice but by a conscious and strategic effort to ensure our military maintains its standing as the world’s strongest and most lethal fighting force.
Now, Sen. Tommy Tuberville has responded by blocking DoD nominations for his own political gain. Not to mention, a small faction in the House of Representatives pushed through a defense authorization bill that would reverse the policy, putting military pay raises on the line and using our service members as pawns to advance their own agenda.
So let’s be clear, Sen. Tuberville is actively holding our military hostage and undermining service members who have sacrificed their lives to protect him and his constituents.
He must stand down.
We learned during our service that our values and national security go hand-in-hand. Our military leaders should always do what’s best for our men and women who serve. We have no doubt that they will continue insulating service members from restrictive state laws just like they do with service members stationed overseas in countries with laws inconsistent with our values.
Soldiers, airmen, guardians, sailors, and Marines put on the uniform because this country is worth fighting for. Safeguarding our freedoms, keeping our loved ones safe, and providing a future for our children and grandchildren transcends politics and the vitriol that dominates our nation’s discourse.
That’s why we chose to serve. That’s why countless women in service chose to serve. We can’t afford to lose them. Our national security depends on it.
But more than that, the health, well-being, and freedoms of our service members and their families depend on it.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., is an Army veteran and a member of the House Foreign Affairs and House Intelligence Committees. Allison Jaslow is the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
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