Defense Department Joins Employers Offering Abortion Travel Coverage

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

October 25, 2022

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is joining the growing list of employers offering to pay for out-of-state travel to access abortion services, according to a recent memorandum from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Military service members and their dependents will be eligible to receive travel and transportation costs to access "non-covered reproductive health care" that is unavailable locally.

Citing the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, the memo stresses that "significant numbers of service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care," potentially interfering with the DOD's ability to recruit and retain qualified service members.

In addition to paying for travel and transportation, the memo directs the DOD to:

  • Take steps to safeguard the privacy of servicemembers and their families regarding reproductive health decisions;
  • Create uniform policies allowing for absences for abortion and other non-covered reproductive health care;
  • Improve awareness of available contraceptive methods and coverage for service members and their families; and
  • Support DOD health care providers facing potential liability and/or loss of license for providing reproductive care consistent with their official duties.

Many private employers have announced similar policies in recent months. According to a recent survey by WTW, 35% of employers currently cover travel expenses for abortion, while 16% plan to offer these benefits in 2023 and 21% are considering it. Walmart, the largest private US employer, announced in August that it would cover travel costs for employees unable to obtain a legal abortion within 100 miles of their location.

These employer offerings present unresolved liability issues. While a number of states have enacted restrictive abortion laws that include provisions allowing for suit against those who "aid and abet the performance or inducement of an abortion," it remains to be seen how these laws will apply in cases of conflicting state laws. Some states have taken the opposite tactic, seeking to shield entities that provide or facilitate abortion from out-of-state lawsuits.