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Explainer: What is the new Veterans Affairs rule on abortion?

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October 14, 2022

Recently, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) released a new Interim Final Rule (IFR): Reproductive Health Services, 87 FR 55287. The rule expands access to abortion by amending current regulations and removing an exclusion on abortion counseling and abortions in the medical benefits package for veterans and eligible family members. This change in rules creates taxpayer-funded abortions by the VA. Following the announcement, the VA allowed 30 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. The ERLC submitted comments raising our concerns with the rule. As that comment period closed Tuesday, the VA is obligated to respond to each of these comments before moving forward with the permanent change.

What changed because of the rule?

The rule change creates a number of problems in addition to expanded abortion access. The VA has argued that their rule change preempts state laws and would allow them to offer abortion even in states where it is banned. Additionally, the rule removes gestational limits, as well as allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life or health of the mother. This functionally permits abortion on demand. The IFR argues that this is necessary because abortion is “medically necessary and appropriate” in instances of rape or incest. Finally, the rule would force medical professionals at the VA to participate in abortions, overriding conscience protections. 

Because the rule was submitted as an IFR, it did not have to go through the usual process of soliciting comments before going into effect. The VA claimed that because of special circumstances that it should be allowed to skip the review process and instead be implemented immediately. 

How did the ERLC respond?

The ERLC submitted comments opposing the rule along with other pro-life and religious liberty organizations. The ERLC objected to the way that the IFR would force taxpayers to fund abortions and force healthcare officials to violate their beliefs about the value of life. The ERLC and Southern Baptists have long affirmed that every life is worthy of protection, including the preborn. Because life begins at conception, abortion denies human life and dignity. 

Further, the ERLC condemned the IFR as unlawful because it was attempting to override the explicit statutory prohibition against the VA providing abortion services. A 1992 law explicitly forbids the VA from providing abortions. Further, the VA’s own former regulations clearly stated that the medical benefits and services would not include abortion and abortion counseling. Further, the VA’s explanation for why it should be allowed to override the 1992 law and former regulations rests on a faulty reading of a 1996 law which does not mention abortion with no evidence that Congress intended to override the former law. 

Finally, the ERLC called the administration to recognize that the rule did not provide exceptions for those who object to performing abortions because it violates their conscience rights and deeply held religious beliefs. The IFR makes no allowances for medical professionals who object, steamrolling over the rights of providers to live out their religious beliefs that every life is sacred and abortion violates human dignity. The VA’s decision to offer abortions is not a compelling government interest approaching the standard necessary to override the conscience rights of these doctors and nurses. 

As an unconstitutional rule that will lead to violations of human dignity and conscience rights, the ERLC called on the Department of Veteran Affairs to withdraw the rule.

How should Christians think about it?

The VA rule represents the most recent example of the pernicious lie that abortion is healthcare. All people should recognize that healthcare is oriented toward the preservation of human life. However, abortion’s sole purpose is the ending of a human life. However, Christians must also recognize that even the logic of abortion as healthcare falls apart in the circumstances of this rule. The VA’s new rule argues that these abortions are medically necessary, even though every state already has an exception for the life of the mother. Christians should be vocal in their opposition to this rule because it is an attempt by administration officials to circumvent state laws that clearly protect life and provide abortion on demand on the taxpayer’s dime.

Additionally, the law is a heinous overreach of the conscience rights of medical providers and would require them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. As currently written, the state is not only allowing and funding the murder of the preborn, it is ordering Christian doctors and nurses to participate. As Christians we recognize that Christ alone is Lord of the conscience, and that our ultimate allegiance is to him. As Southern Baptists, this attempt to run roughshod over the consciences of Christian medical professionals and taxpayers is but the latest instance of Caesar attempting to exercise authority over a realm in which he has none. Christians should oppose this rule and its attempt to coopt Christian men and women into furthering a culture of death.