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Houlahan Named to Annual Defense Bill Conference Committee, Leads Debate on Service Member Reproductive Care

WATCH: Rep. Houlahan leads floor debate in support of Pentagon’s travel and leave policy for abortion care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) led debate and urged the chamber to support the Pentagon’s existing policy of allowing service women to take leave and travel for abortion care if they are stationed in a state where abortion care is not available. This comes on the heels of Houlahan being chosen to represent the Democratic Caucus during upcoming bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on the annual defense bill, otherwise known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).


Watch Rep. Houlahan’s full remarks here or read below as prepared.


Background: Houlahan introduced and managed debate for the Motion to Instruct. The Motion to Instruct is a procedural tool that follows passage of a bill but precedes the conference committee proceedings. It is an opportunity for the House to express agreement or disagreement with a particular aspect of the legislation in question. Houlahan’s Motion to Instruct urged the House managers to disagree with section 716 of the House bill that overturns the Pentagon’s current policy allowing service women to take leave and travel for abortion care.


This week, Houlahan was named as a conferee to the National Defense Authorization Act Conference by Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.


The conferees who are members of the House Armed Services Committee are: 

·         Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member

·         Rep. Chrissy Houlahan

·         Rep. Joe Courtney

·         Rep. John Garamendi

·         Rep. Donald Norcross

·         Rep. Ruben Gallego

·         Rep. Seth Moulton

·         Rep. Salud Carbajal

·         Rep. Ro Khanna

·         Rep. William Keating

·         Rep. Andy Kim

·         Rep. Elissa Slotkin

·         Rep. Mikie Sherrill

·         Rep. Veronica Escobar


Other conferees include the Democratic ranking members of all House committees.




Mr. Speaker, I rise today because this House has a choice. 


We can either stand up for the rights of service members and military families… or we can allow the Republican-led House, and specifically the extreme faction of the Republican conference, to continue their assault on reproductive freedom. 


For my Democratic colleagues and I – the choice is clear. We will fight for the freedom of service women and their families, and I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to do the same.


Many of our service members joined the armed forces prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June. They did so with the understanding that they and their families would be treated with dignity and receive comprehensive, high quality health care services, regardless of where they were stationed. And yes, that includes access to abortion care. 


Since Roe was overturned, service members and their families have had access to travel and leave if they need to seek reproductive healthcare – but that freedom is being threatened today.


Mr. Speaker, today, for the first time since 1973, fourteen states have passed outright abortion bans. Seven more have passed partial bans, and 6 more have tried but been stopped by the courts.  


Nearly 120,000 service members are stationed in Texas. A state that has implemented draconian anti-choice laws, and now has among the worst maternal health outcomes for women in the nation. Our service women deserve better. 


This issue has been politicized and distorted. Outright lies have been spread by elected officials and anti-abortion activists alike.


So, I would like to set the record straight. 


Here are the facts: Women in states with abortion bans are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after giving birth. Let that sink in – we are stationing our women in uniform in states where they are three times more likely to die during pregnancy.


No service member should have to accept a reality where they could die as a result of the anti-choice state laws where they are stationed.


These are the conditions that our service women and military families have to consider. Nearly half of service members no longer have access to abortion care – and that’s not counting their families. 


Our service members sign up to serve our country with the understanding that one day they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.


And let me remind this Chamber and those watching that we have an all-volunteer force. 


So, as we look to recruit and retain the best fighters and greatest minds this country has to offer, we cannot restrict the very freedoms we ask women and men in uniform to potentially die for.


It’s important to go beyond the facts and figures and share the personal and human impact of these anti-abortion laws and the choice we are facing this week. 


In Texas, the state with the second highest number of active-duty personnel, Amanda Zurawski was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke, putting her at high risk for developing a life-threatening infection. Doctors told Amanda that her life was in danger and the fetus was going to die. But doctors could not provide the medical care she needed because their hands were tied by Texas law. 


Amanda eventually developed sepsis and nearly died. Heartbreakingly, her ability to get pregnant in the future may be damaged. Amanda survived and shared her story about this harrowing experience to prevent it from happening to other hopeful mothers.


This story is why I worked with my colleagues, led by my dear friend and fellow veteran Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, to try and codify this basic travel policy. 


But this body decided women cannot be trusted to make reproductive health care choices – instead, the majority in this House decided to make it harder for service women and military families to access care, to make it harder for them to make their own health care choices, to make it harder for service women and military families to decide, on their own, if, when, and how to start their families. 


And now, a single United States Senator is holding up more than 300 military promotions and counting – hollowing out military leadership and hurting our military readiness. He’s doing this all because he is that adamant that women in uniform cannot be trusted. As a veteran, let me say loud and clear that his actions are a disgrace – and Americans agree. 70% of our constituents believe that women should have access to abortion care.


And Mr. Speaker, the grave concerns I’ve outlined don’t begin to scratch the surface of all the harmful amendments tacked onto this bill. 


Quite frankly, it’s an embarrassment to this institution that our governance is so fractured, so unable to agree on something as simple as letting a woman in uniform make the best health care decisions for her family, her career, and for herself.


Sadly, this is indicative of where we are today. I grew up in a military family and served myself. My parents didn’t always agree on politics, but they shared a common love for the promises this nation offered my father, a refugee and Holocaust survivor who became a Naval aviator.


I have colleagues on the other side of the aisle whom I work with regularly and respect. Which is why I’m deeply saddened to see a bipartisan bill that has endured for 60 years fall victim to partisan politics because the bipartisan bill that we passed out of committee 58-1 is no longer recognizable.


So today, Mr. Speaker, in about choice in more ways than one. We can either let this far-right minority continue to hold our national security hostage to their radical agenda, or we can refuse to allow them to play politics with our national security and with the health of our service members.  


With that, I reserve the balance of my time. 




Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, an engineer, a serial entrepreneur, an educator, and a nonprofit leader. She represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is the recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award which “recognizes members who demonstrate the bipartisan leadership and constructive governing necessary to move our country forward” and the Congressional Management Foundation’s 2022 Democracy Award for best Constituent Services in Congress.