Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) declared it could begin offering abortions at its facilities, despite state laws that may prohibit them.
In comments given to 1819 News, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall discussed how the Attorney General's office would react if Alabama VA facilities began to offer abortion procedures, in conflict with Alabama's existing prohibition on abortions.
Marshall said he intends to continue enforcing the law but offered no details on how his office would do so in this specific case.
"For this Administration, there is nothing more important than attempting to bully conservative states on every major issue, including abortion, even when the Administration lacks the authority to do so," Marshall said. "I have no intention of abdicating my duty to enforce the Unborn Life Protection Act against any practitioner who unlawfully conducts abortions in the State of Alabama. The power of states to protect unborn life is settled."
By their own admission, the Department of Veterans Affairs can choose not to follow state laws restricting abortion because their medical facilities are on federally owned land. Since no federal law prohibits abortion, the VA is left to create its own policies and processes, free from the constraints of state law.
"As I've said many times, our diversity—of gender, of race, of thought and belief—is a fundamental source of strength of our country, of our Armed Forces and of our workforce at VA," Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said.
"[U]ltimately, this was a patient safety decision above all else. Pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class, life-saving reproductive care when they need it most—including access to abortion counseling and abortion services when necessary. That's what our nation owes them, and that's what we at VA will deliver."
It is still unclear what recourse a state AG has in preventing a federal agency from operating in defiance of the laws of that state.
Fifteen states have abortion bans, and some, including Alabama, offer limited exceptions.
The Department of Veterans Affairs operates four hospitals in Alabama, including Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Tuskegee. The agency also operates 16 outpatient clinics in the state, including Bessemer, Birmingham, Childersburg, Dothan, Fort Rucker, Gadsden, Guntersville, Huntsville, Jasper, Mobile, Monroeville, Montgomery, Oxford, Selma and Sheffield.
McDonough's directive also could be running afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding of abortions.
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