On June 26, Yi Ping Hai An (一玶海岸), a popular political commentator on Weibo, claimed that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had defied a landmark court ruling reversing a nationwide right to abortion.
“The U.S. military does not recognize the U.S. Supreme Court revoking the constitutional right to abortion, which could turn into a constitutional crisis in the United States,” Yi Ping Hai An wrote on China's Twitter-like platform.
“The American tradition of apolitical armed forces … just a piece of paper now.”
That claim is false and misrepresents remarks by Austin reacting to the ruling.
On June 24, the U.S. high court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that guaranteed a right to abortion with certain limitations. Now, it’s up to the 50 U.S. states to decide if abortion is legal. Dozens have banned and/or restricted it, and many others may follow.
The U.S. military does not oppose the court ruling.
In a June 24 statement, Austin affirmed that the Defense Department’s commitment to “the health and well-being of our Service members, the civilian workforce and DOD families.”
He said the agency was “examining” the court’s decision and “evaluating” its internal policies to ensure continued access to reproductive health care “as permitted by federal law.”
The Associated Press quoted a Pentagon spokesperson as saying that “the suggestion the department would ignore the ruling is ‘false’.”
Nonetheless, online posts wrongly claiming the Pentagon had rejected the court’s ruling circulated widely on Twitter. The source appeared to be a now-suspended Twitter account, BNN Newsroom.
“BREAKING: The Pentagon has stated that any abortion laws enacted as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision will not be recognized,” BNN Newsroom tweeted on June 25.
That tweet was shared more than 26,000 times before it was deleted by the account. Still it was amplified by others, including conservative U.S. Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, an opponent of abortion, and the grassroots political organization Occupy Democrats.
In his post, Yi Ping Hai An also cited the BNN Newsroom tweet and included a screenshot of it (along with a translation into Chinese), further spreading misinformation on the Chinese Internet.
The post also included a screenshot of Austin’s original statement. However, Austin’s statement was not translated, and the post wrongly characterized the statement for its 231,000 Chinese followers.
How the court’s abortion ruling will affect the U.S. military remains an open question.
The military affairs news site Task and Purpose reported that women in service have had restricted access to abortion for a long time. The military only provides abortions in cases of rape or incest, “or when the mother’s life is in danger,” the newspaper said.
For other abortions, a service member would have to go to civilian providers.
“Under existing federal law, a military member can seek an abortion outside of a military facility, in accordance with state law where they are located, but the Pentagon will not fund or perform the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is in danger,” The Associated Press reported.
States “including Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Missouri – all of whom are home to military installations – will also not allow abortions in cases of rape or incest,” Task and Purpose said.
Gil Cisneros Jr., the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in a memo on June 28 that the court’s new ruling "does not prohibit the Department from continuing to perform covered abortions, consistent with federal law. There will be no interruption to this care.”
Cisneros said in the memo that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has long held “that States generally may not impose criminal or civil liability on federal employees who perform their duties in a manner authorized by federal law.”
However, Cisneros also acknowledged potential legal jeopardy in states.
“The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are complicated and must be evaluated against various state laws, together with the views of the Department of Justice,” the memo said.