Alabama Gov. Tommy Tuberville should worry less about Colorado’s “abortion tourism”

If Tommy Tuberville, aka “Coach,” wants to prevent members of the U.S. military from having abortions in Colorado, he’ll have to become a constituent and vote here against our safe-haven abortion policies. Until then, the senator from Alabama will just have to live with the fact that he can’t control the reproductive choices of women in the U.S. military.

But Tuberville is prepared to die on this hill. Citing his disgust at the Department of Defense’s “abortion tourism,” Tuberville has been refusing for months to allow the U.S. Senate to process more than 200 promotions of Pentagon leaders both civilian and enlisted.

Alabama should be barred from future consideration of base expansions by the Department of Defense for this stunt. If members of the U.S. military aren’t trusted by a state’s leaders to make their own family planning and health care decisions, then the federal government should not trust those states with hosting our military bases, units, commands, or academies. Tuberville’s outlandish position is making a great case for Space Command not to go to Huntsville, and fueling rumors that President Joe Biden may decide to re-evaluate Huntsville based on more than just the small town’s cost of living and ties to NASA.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet called Tuberville’s hold on promotions unprecedented during a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, noting that never before have such ordinary military promotions been held hostage for political reasons. Bennet lambasted Tuberville for delaying important military readiness during a time of open war in Europe and growing hostilities with China.

Tuberville’s fight with the Department of Defense began after the Supreme Court stripped pregnant women of their constitutional protections in the Dobbs decision. The Pentagon announced that existing military policy can allow women to take paid leave to travel for an abortion. The policy covers travel costs and up to 21 days of administrative absence for DOD employees in need of an abortion or other reproductive care. The policy also covers employees who want to accompany a spouse or dependent for abortion or reproductive care. The Department of Defense’s health system and the Veterans Administration have long performed abortions in cases defined by law as “covered abortions” because of rape, incest, or the life and health of the mother are endangered.

Tuberville would have us believe that he is only objecting to the DOD spending federal resources aiding and abetting non-covered abortions with travel expenses and paid leave, but his website makes it clear that his religious beliefs — “as a Christian” who “believes life begins at conception” — drive his public policy decisions. He also signed onto a brief in support of the Mississippi abortion ban before the Supreme Court. His radical views on abortion are no secret.

How far would “Coach,” as Tuberville refers to himself on his website, go to protect “the God-given rights of the unborn”? In the name of his religious beliefs would he force women in his home state to pee in a cup before boarding an airplane or crossing state lines? Would he confine or imprison women seeking abortions?

I wonder how young women in the University of Auburn’s ROTC programs feel about “Coach” these days. Simply put, Coach wants women serving in the military in his home state to be beholden to Alabama’s strict, newly-enforceable, abortion ban.

Bennet called hogwash on Tuberville’s attempt to claim his hold on promotions is not about controlling women serving in his home state.

“When they heed the call and they say sign me up, they don’t get to decide where they serve, the Pentagon does,” Bennet said, responding to Tuberville’s disingenuous argument that his hold was about taxpayer dollars and not abortion. “Before Dobbs was decided, our troops had at least some assurance that wherever the Pentagon sent them they would have minimal access to reproductive care as a constitutional right. They knew that for 50 years … no matter where they served. That is no longer true. The Supreme Court stripped that right away.”

Coach probably thought himself quite clever when he devised this stunt. I can’t help but hope that it backfires spectacularly with the upcoming decision of where to place the U.S. Space Command.

Colorado was a strong contender for the U.S. Space Command headquarters given that the state is home to the Space Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force Academy, and four Air Force bases. Oh, and Colorado is already the temporary home of the Space Command.

Reports indicate that the DOD put an emphasis on the cost of living and the cost of construction. I’m certain that Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville would come out ahead of Colorado Spring’s Schreiver Air Force Base on those two measures.

But not everything cheap is good.

For example, Alabama has one of the highest poverty rates in America, with more children who are going hungry (“food insecure”) than almost all other states. Lawmakers in Alabama refused to join the Medicaid expansion, meaning that residents there who would qualify for Medicaid in other states based on their income level do not receive the federal benefit and many either go uninsured or buy insurance they can’t afford.

Some of the worst outcomes in America for pregnant women and infants are in Alabama. The state has one of the highest rates for all of these outcomes measured by the CDC: pre-term birth, stillbirth, low-birth weight, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and most disturbingly,  preventable maternal death.

A staggering 36.4 Alabama women per 100,0000 live births dies either during childbirth or immediately after. Tuberville doesn’t seem to care, at least not according to any of his press releases or Tweets in recent months.

The rate of stillbirths — babies who die in utero after reaching 20 weeks of gestation — is much higher in Alabama than in other parts of the country with a rate of 8.87 stillbirths per 1,000 live births. In Colorado, the rate is 5.53 stillbirths per 1,000 live births.

Coach spends a substantial amount of time and money opposing abortion, but he doesn’t really care about babies. If he did, he’d spend at least some of his time focused on the horrible health outcomes for women and children in his state. Perhaps he could focus on preventable miscarriages like those caused by listeria, the stillbirths that can be prevented with medical interventions like cesarean delivery, sudden infant death syndrome, and other fatal childhood diseases. Increased SNAP benefits for expectant mothers could reduce the rate of pre-term labor and increase birth weight.

Coach could use his position as a U.S. Senator to push for his state’s newly launched focus on a “count the kicks” program to prevent stillbirths. He is clearly less worried about the troubling public health crisis that is the increased rate of stillbirths than he is about the non-existent problem of transgender high school kids being allowed to compete in sports. I’ll let you guess which pressing issue he held a press conference about a week ago.

“Coach” should stay in his lane — football — and leave women’s health care and national defense to those who truly care about women and children and those who don’t jeopardize DOD activities for political stunts.

Megan Schrader is the editor of The Denver Post’s opinion pages.

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