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Abortions bans — like anything else that unfairly puts hurdles between service members and necessary health care — pose a threat to military readiness. They erode the principles that make America strong. 

Last year was the first time the Department of Defense stated unequivocally that three weeks of leave and travel expenses would be fully covered for any woman serving her country in active duty to obtain an abortion. As we begin a new year, I’ve been reminded of exactly why that groundbreaking policy is one of the things I am most proud of working on during my tenure as undersecretary of Defense. 

Like millions of other Americans, I closely followed the struggle by a mother of two in Texas to obtain a medically necessary abortion. It wasn’t the uniqueness of Kate Cox’s story that drew our collective attention to her, it was how incredibly common it was. Her family trauma, playing out amidst so many families gathering for the holidays, could have easily been a neighbor down the street or a family member. It could be any of us. 

From the moment the draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was leaked, it was clear exactly where such a poorly decided ruling would lead. And, unfortunately, that is exactly where we have now arrived, where the lives of mothers, sisters and daughters are put at risk unnecessarily. New restrictions on women’s reproductive health have wedged politicians, and even judges, into a place neither has any business being — doctors’ offices. 

Just as easily Kate Cox could be your neighbor, she could also be any of hundreds of thousands of women serving her country in uniform. Stationed, as part of their service, at a military base in a state that unfairly restricts the rights of any woman within its borders.

As a young man, unclear what direction his life would lead, the Navy was a chance to serve my country, it was a path to education beyond what anyone else in my family received, and it was the opportunity to see different people and places all around the world. The culmination of an ROTC scholarship, deployments in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East, and graduate school are what crafted me into the person I am today and also set my heart on returning to the San Gabriel Valley to start a family. All of that — and more — from the Navy.  

Through the more than a decade I was in active service I never doubted that as part of my service, skill training, fair pay and health coverage would be there for me. Basic fairness says all those who serve receive the same benefits I did. 

There is no reason, nor rationale, nor justification for why a woman serving our country should not feel the same commitment that I felt. That’s just not the American way. While this equality is a goal that all branches of our armed services are still striving for, unequivocally, new abortion restrictions in states have only exacerbated existing inequities for women in the military. 

The Department of Defense’s abortion travel policy was a necessary, though incomplete, step to remedying the Supreme Court’s error. It also could be reversed on the very first day of a new administration. There is a moral imperative to enshrine basic reproductive rights for service women, military families and all Americans into law.  

To make that happen, we need to vote our values next fall. We cannot afford to elect more special interest frauds or right-wing ideologues to positions of power. They are wolves dressed in sheep’s skin. Judge every candidate for office by who they are, what they’ve done, and if they can be trusted to stand up for our basic rights and freedoms, and not buckle to special interests groups. 

Gil Cisneros served in Congress as a Democrat in California from 2019-2021. He served as the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in the Biden administration. 

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