House GOP pushes through defense bill nixing abortion access policy

Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, during a hearing on Tuesday in Washington. Rogers praised the House’s passage on Friday of an $895 billion defense policy bill, but the legislation is loaded with right-wing mandates targeting abortion, transgender care and diversity initiatives. (Tierney L. Cross/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans banded together Friday to narrowly pass an $895 billion defense policy bill that would restrict access to abortion and transgender medical care in the military and eliminate all positions and offices of diversity, equity and inclusion across the Pentagon.

The 217-199 vote, largely along party lines, reflected a dramatic shift in support for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, normally an overwhelmingly popular bill, since it emerged from a House committee last month with broad bipartisan support. Democrats turned against the bill in droves after Republicans insisted for the second year in a row on loading it with conservative policy dictates. The legislation would provide a 19.5% pay increase for the troops, as well as an array of quality-of-life improvements including more generous housing and food allowances for military families and improvements for military housing facilities. It would also cut the number of F-35 fighter aircraft the Pentagon could buy over the next year from 68 to 58, after years of frustrations among lawmakers with production delays from the manufacturer. And it would increase funding for drone programs and development of artificial intelligence technology as part of a strategy to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

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“The threats facing our nation are more complex and challenging than anything we’ve encountered before,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement after the bill’s passage. “Our adversaries will only be deterred through strength,” he added, and the House bill “ensures our military will continue to project that strength.”

The near-unanimous support among Republicans was a relief for Speaker Mike Johnson, who bowed to pressure from his right flank and allowed his members to attach a raft of provisions that play on culture war issues important to the party’s conservative base. Ultraconservative Republicans had threatened to block the measure if they did not receive votes on their priorities, but the result was a series of tough votes for more mainstream GOP lawmakers.

One such proposal, offered by Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Texas and approved Thursday, would overturn the Pentagon’s policy offering time off and transportation reimbursement to service members traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

The Defense Department created the policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the precedent that enshrined abortion rights nationwide, which prompted a rush by some states to enact bans and curbs on the procedure. That left Americans, including military personnel — who are housed at bases throughout the country, sometimes with little control over where — with unequal access to abortion.

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