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Pentagon official says military policy at center of abortion fight isn't negotiable

As Congress returns from recess this week, hundreds of military promotions remain on hold. Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama says he wants to overturn the Pentagon policy that helps military members access out-of-state health care, including abortion.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said that won’t happen.

“In terms of what the department can give up: There’s really nothing we can, unfortunately, when it comes to the policy,” Singh said. “The policy is in place to ensure that there is equity across all of our service members, no matter where they serve.”

Critics of Tuberville’s actions say he’s damaging national security. Singh said it’s apparent “up and down the chain of command.”

“For the first time in the history of the department, three of our military services are operating without Senate-confirmed leaders,” said Singh.

She added that this is not just unprecedented, but risky in what she calls “an incredibly tense national security environment that only continues to grow more tense.”

“When you talk about the issue of readiness, we have the growing threat of Russia, in Europe, with the ongoing war in Ukraine,” said Singh. “We have Iran continuing to engage in unsafe and unprofessional behavior with our sailors and our commercial vessels. And so you really need Senate-confirmed officers in these positions to engage with allies and partners.”

On the other side of things, Singh added, “our adversaries are certainly watching what’s happening back here at home.”

A lack of Senate confirmation in these roles, said Singh, “does throw chaos into a system that thrives on an orderly transition from position to position.”

According to Singh, the holds especially affect military families with plans to move over the summer and enroll their children in new schools in line with still-unconfirmed promotions. And for some, she said, pay may also be affected.

“In some cases, they are filling the role of a higher position but not getting paid for that work,” said Singh, “which is obviously incredibly demoralizing.”

The policy is a separate issue from the promotions being held up, she said, adding: “Our nominees are apolitical.”

Nominees and their families are being unfairly affected, said Singh, but the Pentagon doesn’t “have a chip to negotiate with” here.

“The Secretary [of Defense] has remained engaged with Sen. Tuberville,” she said.

But according to Singh, the Pentagon is looking to the Senate to negotiate with the Alabama Republican.

“We are really looking to the Senate for leadership here and particularly the Republicans to see what they will do,” said Singh. “Because at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone on either side of the aisle wants to see this continue.”

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.