Fifteen Republican state attorneys general are warning the Department of Veterans Affairs that they will “act decisively” if doctors in the department perform abortions that violate state law.
In a letter Thursday to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, organized by the Mississippi Attorney General, the attorneys general argued that the VA’s abortion policy implemented earlier this year is “deeply flawed” and that a federal department cannot “overrule duly enacted state laws”.
“We will stand by the representations of the VA regarding the limited application of the rule,” the AGs wrote. “We will not allow you to use this rule to erect a regime of elective abortions that defies state law. We stand ready to act decisively against deviations from the terms of the rule or its promises. And we will enforce our duly enacted state laws and hold you responsible for violations of federal law.
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“Those who perform abortions based on the Interim Final Rule — and in defiance of state or federal law — do so at their own risk,” they added.
The other states that have signed the letter are Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas,
Utah and West Virginia.
Asked about the letter, VA spokesman Terrence Hayes said the department is “committed to providing” veterans of childbearing age “the full range of reproductive health services to ensure their health and well-being.” be”.
“As VA Secretary Denis McDonough said, “Pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve access to world-class reproductive health care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver,” Hayes added.
In September, the VA began for the first time to offer abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the life or health of the mother is in danger because of the pregnancy.
The change came in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which overturned abortion rights nationwide. Since the June ruling, at least 13 states have enacted full or near-total bans on abortion, while several other states have moved to ban the procedure but have been blocked at least temporarily by the courts.
The VA and its allies argue the department has the authority to provide abortions under a 1996 law that says the VA “shall” provide “necessary” medical care to veterans.
But congressional Republicans and state AGs in their letter, support a 1992 law that ordered the VA to provide reproductive health care, except “infertility services, abortions, or medical care.” pregnancy”, unless such care is necessary because of a service-related condition. Ministry’s new abortion policy.
The Department of Justice released a legal analysis supporting the VA’s position that federal law authorizes the new policy. In the analysis, the Justice Department also held that federal law prevails over state law and that states “cannot penalize VA employees for providing such services, whether through criminal prosecution. , civil litigation or license revocation proceedings”.
But congressional Democrats who support the new policy have warned that VA staff may not be protected from state law enforcement.
Alabama’s attorney general, who is not a signatory to the latest letter, has previously suggested he could prosecute VA doctors who perform abortions contrary to his state’s law, which does not allow abortions. abortions in cases of rape or incest.
In addition to citing the 1992 law, the 15 state AGs who signed Thursday’s letter argue that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the section that establishes that federal law takes precedence over state law that the Department of Justice cited in its analysis, does not apply in this case. That’s because their abortion laws “represent legitimate exercises of traditional state authority to ‘serve legitimate state interests,'” they wrote, citing the Dobbs decision.
“Like many administration efforts related to abortion, this new rule is an illegal attempt to wrest that authority from the people,” the AGs wrote. “This attempt will fail.”
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
Related: VA staff offering abortions may not be protected in some states, warn Democratic lawmakers
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