Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, January 21, 2011

Abortion Services and Military Medical Facilities

David F. Burrelli
Specialist in Military Manpower Policy

In 1993, President Clinton modified the military policy on providing abortions at military medical facilities. Under the change directed by the President, military medical facilities were allowed to perform abortions if paid for entirely with non-Department of Defense (DOD) funds (i.e., privately funded). Although arguably consistent with statutory language barring the use of Defense Department funds, the President’s policy overturned a former interpretation of existing law barring the availability of these services. On December 1, 1995, H.R. 2126, the FY1996 DOD appropriations act, became law (P.L. 104-61). Included in this law was language barring the use of funds to administer any policy that permits the performance of abortions at any DOD facility except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or where the pregnancy resulted from an act of rape or incest. Language was also included in the FY1996 DOD Authorization Act (P.L. 104-106, February 10, 1996) prohibiting the use of DOD facilities in the performance of abortions. These served to reverse the President’s 1993 policy change. Recent attempts to change or modify these laws have failed.

Over the last three decades, the availability of abortion services at military medical facilities has been subjected to numerous changes and interpretations. Within the last 15 years, Congress has considered numerous amendments to effectuate such changes. Although Congress, in 1992, passed one such amendment to make abortions available at overseas installations, it was vetoed.

The changes ordered by the President did not necessarily have the effect of greatly increasing access to abortion services. Abortions are generally not performed at military medical facilities in the continental United States. In addition, few have been performed at these facilities abroad for a number of reasons. First, the U.S. military follows the prevailing laws and rules of foreign countries regarding abortion. Second, the military has had a difficult time finding health care professionals in uniform willing to perform the procedure.

With the enactment of P.L. 104-61 and P.L. 104-106, these questions became moot, because now, neither DOD funds nor facilities may be used to administer any policy that provides for abortions at any DOD facility, except where the life of the mother may be endangered if the fetus were carried to term. Privately funded abortions at military facilities are permitted when the pregnancy was the result of an act of rape or incest.

In 2010, language was added to the Senate version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow any DOD facilities to perform privately funded abortions. As noted, the military follows local laws and practices to the greatest extent possible. This potential change would not likely have much of an effect outside of the United States since nations that host large numbers of U.S. military personnel maintain legal restrictions on abortions. On September 21, 2010, and December 15, 2010, attempts were made to move this legislation to the Senate floor for a vote. However, due to disagreements over procedures, cloture votes were taken and failed. The House-passed version of this legislation does not contain language pertaining to abortion. The FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act became P.L. 111-383 without the Senate provision allowing military facilities to be used to perform abortions.

Date of Report: January 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: 95-387
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.