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Defense secretary criticizes Alabama senator for blocking military promotions over abortion

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned Tuesday that Sen. Tommy Tuberville's (R-Ala.) unilateral blockade of 160 senior military promotions over the Pentagon's abortion travel policy, and vow to tie up hundreds more, was harming national security. Austin told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that "not approving the recommendations for promotions" creates a powerful "ripple effect" through the armed forces that "will impact on our readiness" and disrupt military families.

Tuberville announced earlier in March that he will block bulk approval of military promotions unless the Pentagon rescinds its policy of giving service members up to three weeks of paid leave and travel reimbursement if they need to go out of state to procure an abortion. Tuberville argues that the policy, announced by Austin after the Supreme Court allowed states to ban abortion, amounts to taxpayer funding of abortion and should be approved or rejected by lawmakers.

Austin pushed back Tuesday, noting that "almost one in five of our troops is women," they don't get to "choose where they're stationed," and "almost 80,000 of our women are stationed in places where they don't have access to non-covered reproductive health care." Before issuing the travel policy, he added, "I heard from our troops. I heard from our senior leaders. And I heard from our chiefs and our secretaries, and this policy is based on strong legal ground."

Tuberville's hold means that the promotions and transfers of hundreds of generals, flag officers, and civilian Pentagon officials need to be approved one by one, not in bulk as is usually done. President Biden's "civilian nominees have been mired in Senate gridlock for much of his term, Politico reports. "But senior military promotions typically cruise to Senate approval with little opposition, with the chamber sometimes approving hundreds of moves at once."

Tuberville's blockade is patronizing to women in the military and "risks "permanently politicizing the confirmation of military personnel," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Monday. "If every single one of us objected to the promotion of military personnel whenever we feel passionately or strongly about an issue, our military would simply grind to a halt." Tuberville said he won't relent until the Pentagon rescinds its policy.