Pentagon ends blocking of abortion-related sites on computer networks

The Pentagon quietly lifted a longstanding ban that prevented soldiers and civilians from searching for abortion-related terms on departmental computer networks, a move that follows the landmark Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month.

The department had banned abortion-related content, along with other topics, under a 2010 policy, “to maximize the bandwidth available for mission purposes,” the spokesperson said. of the Pentagon Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman said Tuesday in an email to the Military Times.

Such a dramatic shift in what the department’s more than 3 million users can access on their computers came after POLITICS reported on May 3 that the court was to overrule Roe, but before the opinion was given on June 24.

“We determined in early June that we absolutely had to allow content classified as abortion (accessible on DOD networks) based on the health aspects of the category,” Gorman said. He added that the department continually assesses the categories of content blocked on the department’s networks.

Military Times began asking about the policy last month after a military officer said he tried to access the nonprofit Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America sites on his government computer to get information for his troops and had received a blocked notification.

Gorman did not provide answers to follow-up questions.

Department Chief Information Officer John Sherman “has directed that content related to access to abortion services be unblocked and this change is currently underway across all DOD organizations,” Gorman added. “In addition, the DoD CIO is reviewing the entire Internet Access Reclassification Policy for various sites and topics related to healthcare access and other issues for appropriate updates.”

Officials did not respond to requests for comment regarding the date of the policy change or other prohibited categories.

The officer who requested anonymity told the Military Times that he was denied access to the Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America websites while seeking information for his troops regarding the ban on abortions after six weeks.

“I guess deployments (troops) or those without personal internet access can’t be told,” he said.

The officer said he was “stunned” when sites were blocked and his troops wondered what the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, “especially those previously stationed in Mississippi.”

Mississippi lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions, and the state is home to at least six military bases.

The officer and other military sources who googled “abortion” on their work computers for Military Times reported last week that some sites were not blocked. However, the officer said not being able to access Planned Parenthood or NARAL Pro-Choice America gave him pause.

“All DoD officials said they were going to do everything they could to make sure we had the information we needed with the new ruling and the new laws,” the officer said.

Gorman said in a follow-up statement to the Military Times that the department was working “through all DOD networks now to ensure the restriction is lifted in a uniform manner.”

As the Pentagon seeks to protect its uniformed and civilian employees from lawsuits following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the officer said he nevertheless heard the concerns of his troops.

“They can be stationed in those states that don’t allow abortions, and they’ll have to ask permission from commanding officers, pay for travel, take their limited leave, and be judged around command,” the officer said. “And then even men who fear for their daughters and wives who are forced to move with them to places like Texas.”

A friend’s wife, the officer said, “is terrified” of being stationed where she won’t have access to services, such as Planned Parenthood.

The DOD’s lifting of abortion research on its networks comes as the Pentagon scrambles to analyze what Roe’s overthrow means for troops and families.

And although the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which overturned the Roe precedent does not change the legality of getting an abortion covered by military health insurance, it raises questions about their availability and the extra effort that securing legal abortions can lead to.

“I am committed to caring for our people and ensuring the readiness and resilience of our force,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on June 24, the day Roe was overthrown. “The Department is reviewing this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care, as permitted by federal law.”

Geoff is a senior reporter for the Military Times, specializing in the navy. He has covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was recently a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes all kinds of advice at [email protected]