Fifteen Republican state attorneys general warned the Department of Veterans Affairs that they will "act decisively" if department doctors perform abortions against state law.
In a letter Thursday to VA Secretary Denis McDonough spearheaded by the attorney general of Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, the attorneys general argued that the VA's abortion policy is "deeply flawed" and that a federal department cannot "override duly enacted state laws."
"We will hold you to the VA's representations about the rule's limited application," the attorneys general wrote. "We will not allow you to use this rule to erect a regime of elective abortions that defy state laws. We stand ready to move decisively against departures from the rule's terms or its promises. And we will enforce our duly enacted state laws and hold you accountable for violations of federal law.
"Those who perform abortions based on the interim final rule — and in defiance of state or federal laws — do so at their own risk."
The other states that signed include Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
Military.com asked for comment on the letter. VA spokesman Terrance Hayes said the department is "committed to providing" veterans "the full range of reproductive health services to ensure their health and well-being."
"As VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said, 'Pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most.' That's what our nation owes them, and that's what we at VA will deliver."
In September, the VA began offering abortions, including cases of rape, incest or where the mother's life is at risk from the pregnancy.
Since the June overturning of Roe v. Wade, at least 13 states have put complete or near-total abortions ban, while several states opted to block or temporarily ban via lower courts.
The VA argues it has the authority to provide abortions under a 1996 law that says the VA "shall" provide "needed" medical care to veterans. But determining "medical care" is another issue.
In the letter, congressional Republicans and attorneys general argue a 1992 law that directs the VA to provide reproductive healthcare except for "infertility services, abortions or pregnancy care" unless it is needed because of a service-connected condition barring the department's new abortion policy.
The Justice Department issued a legal analysis supporting the VA's stance. The DOJ also held that federal law supersedes state law and states "may not penalize VA employees for providing such services, whether through criminal prosecution, civil litigation or license revocation proceedings."
Congressional Democrats who support the policy have expressed concern that VA staff may not actually be protected from enforcement of state laws.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who did not sign off on the letter, previously suggested he could prosecute VA doctors who perform abortions against the state's law, which does not allow abortions in the case of rape or incest.
The 15 attorneys general who signed the letter argue the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which establishes the federal law over state law against the Justice Department's previous claims. Abortions laws "represent legitimate exercises of traditional state authority to 'serve legitimate state interests,'" they wrote.
"Like many of the administration's abortion-related efforts, this new rule is an unlawful attempt to wrest that authority from the people," the attorneys general wrote. "That attempt will fail."
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