(Reuters) -The U.S. government will provide abortion services to veterans in cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy puts the life of the woman at risk, even in states that have banned or restricted the practice, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said on Friday.
The agency said in a policy document that it decided to offer abortions to veterans in response to a wave of U.S. states enacting bans and restrictions on such services since the Supreme Court ended the nationwide right to abortion in June.
The department determined that “providing access to abortion-related medical services is needed to protect the lives and health of veterans” and the rule was meant to “avert imminent and future harm” to veterans, according to the policy document, which the department submitted to the Office of the Federal Register as an “interim final rule.”
“This is a patient safety decision,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
By week's end, 11 states will likely have near-total bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy in force: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
In Texas, abortion providers could face up to lifetime imprisonment for helping patients terminate a pregnancy. In Oklahoma, where abortion was already banned with few exceptions, a law that took effect on Thursday makes providing an abortion a felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The department's new policy removes or changes some of provisions in the medical benefits package for veterans that excluded abortion services until now.
Veterans Affairs healthcare providers will determine whether the pregnancy is a risk to the life and health of the veteran on a case-by-case basis, the department said.
In cases of rape or incest, self-reporting by a veteran would constitute sufficient evidence to justify the abortion, it said.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Mark Porter and Jonathan Oatis)