SRX_ SEC. DENIS MCDONOUGH

After a visit to the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks to the media during a press conference on April 28, 2021.

The VA medical system performed its first abortion, weeks after an interim final rule was announced that allowed it to provide the service in the case of incest, rape, or when the life of the mother was in jeopardy.

Denis McDonough, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, told lawmakers in the Senate Wednesday night that the procedure was performed at one of its medical centers. A spokesperson, citing the clients privacy, declined to provide the location or give further details.

The VA did not previously provide abortion services but in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and ending constitutional abortion rights, the department said it believes it was "essential" to the life and health of veterans and VA beneficiaries that they still have access to medically necessary abortions.

McDonough said in a news release that offering the service was a "patient safety decision."

"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," he said in a statement.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the department's under secretary for health, said the VA came to its decision after listening to health care providers and veterans.

"Offering this care will save veterans’ health and lives, and there is nothing more important than that," Elnahal said in a statement.

In addition to abortions, the VA will also provide abortion counseling. Both changes also apply to eligible dependents enrolled in the agency’s CHAMPVA program.

The Supreme Court's ruling in June led to several states setting trigger laws that either banned abortions entirely or severely restricted when the procedure can happen. The VA said its health care providers will be able to provide authorized services regardless of state restrictions.

Decisions about if a pregnant person’s "life or health" are endangered will be made on a case-by-case basis by VA health care providers in consultation with patients. The VA will consider self-reporting of rape or incest as sufficient evidence in those cases, the agency said.

The VA excluded abortion coverage when it established its medical benefits package in 1999. The agency did not provide an explanation at the time but said in background information provided earlier this month that it was aware that veterans in its health care system "could access abortion services in their communities." After the Dobbs decision in June, that was no longer the case nationwide, prompting the agency to create exemptions to its exclusion.