In January the Pentagon launched a pilot program that allowed U.S. troops to freeze their sperm and eggs before deployment.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter lauded it as a way that service members could preserve their reproductive cells in case they suffered catastrophic wounds or merely wanted to put off having children.
Now the program might be heading for a quick demise: On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate voted 85-13 to approve a $602 billion military spending bill for 2017 that stripped funding for the program.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called it “a truly shameful mistake.”
I don’t know who thought it was a good idea. I don’t know why. But what I do know is this: It’s absolutely wrong and we should fix it.
Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray
Murray, a longtime member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, tried twice to force a vote that would have restored $38 million in funding for the program. Both times her move was blocked by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
$38 millionThe amount that Democratic Sen. Patty Murray proposed to spend on the military fertility program.
McCain said he wanted to allow a vote on Murray’s amendment but that he had to “reluctantly” block it because “there is objection on this side, which I have to honor.” He gave no indication how many senators had objected to the provision.
“I would like to thank Sen. Murray for her advocacy for the people who are serving in our military in uniform, and this is at least an important aspect of military life, and I thank her for that,” McCain said, adding that he would continue to fight to get a vote.
Murray said she found the Republican plan to end the military fertility program buried on page 1,455 of the Senate’s massive annual defense spending bill.
“I don’t know how this line got in there,” Murray said. “I don’t know who thought it was a good idea. I don’t know why. But what I do know is this: It’s absolutely wrong and we should fix it.”
I would like to thank Sen. Murray for her advocacy for the people who are serving in our military in uniform, and this is at least an important aspect of military life, and I thank her for that.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain
The Senate bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, has already prompted a veto threat by President Barack Obama.
Among other things, it would prohibit closing the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay and for the first time require young women to sign up for a potential draft.
The female draft provision angered many social conservatives, including Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the GOP’s leading presidential contenders earlier this year.
Murray hopes to restore the funding for the fertility program when the fight moves to a House-Senate conference committee. The House of Representatives has already approved its military funding bill, which included money for the fertility program.
Murray, the former chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also is trying to advance a separate plan to pay for in-vitro fertilization services for veterans. Last week, Murray called such services a “cost of war” to help former fighters who’ve had their sex organs damaged or destroyed on the battlefield have families. She said Congress should scrap a 1992 law that prohibits the Veterans Administration from providing the service.
Congress approved the ban in response to concerns that assisted reproduction would result in the destruction of some fertilized embryos, though the Pentagon pays for IVF treatments for active military members and their spouses.
Murray noted that the program to freeze sperm and eggs from deploying service members met with widespread praise when it began. She said it offered deploying troops “some much-deserved peace of mind” as they prepared to fight overseas.
“It’s hard to imagine any of my colleagues standing up to say that men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifices for their country – for all of us – should be denied a shot at their dream of a family,” Murray said in a speech on the Senate floor.