A USA flag laying on top of a rainbow pride flag

Late on July 14, House Republicans effectively corrupted a traditionally bipartisan bill by stuffing it with right-wing extremist policies. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) funds the Department of Defense (DOD)’s annual budget and appropriations, providing funding for our national security. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted: “We don’t want Disneyland to train our military. House Republicans just passed a bill that ENDS the wokism in the military and gives our troops their biggest pay raise in decades.” 

What he means is that this bill will strip minority members of the military of beneficial programs. Republican amendments to this bill eliminate all diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the DOD, end the reimbursement program for military personnel who travel for abortion services, restrict gender-affirming care, prevent affirmative action in military academies, block President Biden’s executive orders on climate change in the Pentagon, prevent schools affiliated with the DOD from teaching about race or racism, and blocking “radical gender ideology books” from military schools. 

The passing of this bill through the House was an unequivocal victory for far-right extremists, demonstrating the amount of sway they have in the House of Representatives. Veterans Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) had this to say about their fellow representatives’ decisions about abortion care for military personnel. “[T]hey will say, ‘this is a really bad idea,’ ‘this is not where the party should be going,’ ‘this is a mistake,’” Sherill said. “[W]ell then why did everyone but two people in the Republican conference vote for this really bad amendment?”

House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said, “Extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”

The amendments will have detrimental effects on the most vulnerable members of our military. Taking away service members’ access to gender-affirming care will undoubtedly worsen transgender military members’ mental health and ability to cope with the many stressors that come with serving in the military. According to a study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, gender-affirming surgeries were associated with a 42% reduction in psychological distress and a 44% reduction in suicidal ideation compared with transgender people who had not had affirming surgery but wanted to.

Service members have little choice over where they live . . . you go where you’re told . . . and so what happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place, and you’re concerned about your reproductive care?

Rear Admiral John Kirby (Ret.)

On reproductive care, John F. Kirby, a former rear admiral in the US Navy and current Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, had this to say: “One in five members of the US military are women. We’re an all-volunteer force … When you sign up and when you make that contract, you have every right to expect that organization [sic]–in this case, the military–is going to take care of you, is going to take care of your family… Whether it’s about female service members or female family members, being able to count on the kinds of healthcare–and reproductive care, specifically–that they need to serve, that is a foundational sacred obligation of military leaders.

He also argues that providing reproductive care allows more people to join and stay in the military, “We want to keep the people that we get, [and] want to make sure that they can continue to serve. So it can have an extremely, extremely significant impact on our recruiting and retention–not to mention it’s just the right darn thing to do for people who raise their hand and agreed to serve in the military. Service members have little choice over where they live, given that the military assigns troops to position in various locations–including in states that have severely restricted or outright banned abortion after the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade. You go where you’re told, that’s the way orders work. You’re assigned, you don’t get to choose. And so what happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place, and you’re concerned about your reproductive care? What do you do? Do you say no and get out? Well, some people may decide to do that.”

As the NDAA and its new amendments are reviewed by the Senate, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is causing unprecedented challenges by blocking hundreds of military nominations and promotions in an effort to change the Pentagon’s current abortion policy (which reimburses service members and/or their spouses and family members who need to travel for reproductive care, and offers up to 21 days of leave for that care). Despite facing backlash for his actions, he refuses to back down until the Senate holds a vote on the abortion policy. However, he has not introduced a piece of legislation to overturn it and instead is insisting that the Democrats introduce their own bill on the policy and vote on it.

Senator Tuberville is hijacking what has traditionally been a bipartisan process: the National Defense Authorization Act. He’s also delaying the confirmation of hundreds of qualified and capable military nominees, depriving our armed forces of the leadership it needs. 

The Pentagon is going without a Senate-confirmed Marine Corps commandant for the first time ever in over a century because of this attack on our national security.

A quote from Senator Tuberville in 2021:  “Military spouses make sacrifices every day for their country. They are the backbones and support systems for our troops, often balancing this with family life, moving towns, and being separated from loved ones.”

Now, however, Senator Tuberville is determined to strip military service members, spouses, and families of the means to access necessary reproductive care. 

Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) summarized the situation on Twitter: “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the bill that funds all of our military operations. It is typically bipartisan and is about as serious as Congress gets… We can have our political debates about any number of issues but it is generally understood that when Americans are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend us, it’s time to check the crazies at the door. But today, the crazies won. They won first because [McCarthy] put the crazies in positions of power. But second because none of the “moderate” Republicans had the courage to stay the hell out of KrazyTown…. Is every member of the [House Republican Conference] a homophobic, racist, science-denying lunatic? No. But the lesson of today is that the ones who aren’t are massive cowards completely unfit for any position of leadership. There is space—and demand—for reasonable differences of opinion in our democracy. This isn’t about whether we agree. It’s about whether we can trust that—differences aside—we trust that we’ve got each other’s back if we ever find ourselves in a foxhole together. That’s usually a metaphor, conflating the horrors of war with the much lower-stakes lives that most of us are fortunate enough to lead. But today, the entire [House Republican Conference] told us—both literally and metaphorically—that they don’t give a damn about the rest of the unit.”

Passing the NDAA with these amendments would be an insult to everyone who has ever risked or given their life in the military. Caring about those who serve in the military means caring about everyone who serves in the military. Every military service member and veteran deserves access to necessary health care.