US troops voluntarily transport people seeking abortions across state lines

US troops are voluntarily transporting people seeking abortions from states that have banned the procedure to states where they can get help, claiming they put on the uniform to fight for freedom, including “freedom of choice.”

Increased access is a nonprofit organization founded in April that connects volunteer pilots with people who need abortions and live in more than a dozen states where the procedure is performed prohibited. Those pilots use their own private planes, donating their time, fuel and maintenance costs, said Fiona, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, who declined to use her last name to protect her privacy.

Fiona said more than 800 pilots had volunteered to fly to increase access. The group does not know how many of them have current or former military ties because the application does not ask for their military background. But some pilots volunteered to share their military experiences or sent photos of themselves in military uniform.

“I got an email from a pilot … from California who is an Air Force reservist offering to help us recruit more pilots from the Army,” she said. “This is a guy who feels that … this is another way to serve his country.”

The group facilitated one flight from Oklahoma to Kansas in mid-June. “We did one flight and it was by design. We wanted to demonstrate that it is possible,” said Fiona. “We’re not going to champion a national airline overnight.”

One active-duty Air Force officer, who learned about the group from a pilots’ Facebook group, said Defense alone his decision to volunteer with the group “has to do with why I even joined the military.”

“Both of my grandparents served in World War II fighting for an idea more important than themselves, that America stands for freedom,” the officer said, speaking in the background to discuss the delicate nature of abortion. “This idea has evolved significantly since World War II. . . . This freedom now goes beyond freedom of choice, but also means allowing women and men to stand on an equal footing.”

The officer, who handled domestic violence and sexual assault cases professionally during his more than five years in the Air Force, said working with victims also changed his perspective on women who need reproductive care.

“These problems can be fundamental to someone’s life, and Elevated Access can offer a solution that will not necessarily solve these problems, but give the person the ability to at least overcome these problems or at least find a way forward in their life, instead of deal with consequences that they would otherwise not have had they lived in another state,” the officer said.

The National Guard member, who declined to give his rank to protect his identity and is also a police officer, also said he was driven to become an enhanced access volunteer for the same reason he signed up to serve: a desire to help people.

“If you can help another American, you should do it,” said a Guardsman, also speaking in the background. “That’s why many of us joined the army in the first place. You can see it as a continuation of…patriotic duty.”

However, the Air Force and National Guard officer said he did not share his intention to volunteer with anyone in his command. Military personnel who volunteer to participate in the group do so in their personal capacity and will not wear uniforms or use any military equipment while flying.

“I know one of my bosses is pretty conservative … I know it could come at some cost, either with service ratings or some kind of performance reports,” the Air Force officer said. “But I think it’s worth it, I really think it’s worth it, because it makes a difference on a very basic human level, just to get people the treatment they need.”

Pentagon officials did not respond to a request for comment on whether volunteering at the organization violates any rules. But Rachel VanLandingham, a professor at Southwestern Law School and a former Air Force judge advocate, said the pilots are likely legally exposed. A non-volunteer order would most likely be an illegal order, as military personnel volunteer their time off duty and flying does not affect military duty, good order, and discipline. In addition to the military, VanLandingham also predicted that troops would be protected from state laws that could be used to prosecute someone for helping a person obtain an abortion in a state where it is illegal. Because the pilots would be flying to states where the procedure is allowed, they would be complicit in a legal, not an illegal, abortion, she argued.

Patients do not contact Elevated Access directly, Fiona said. Instead, the group works with local providers, such as Planned Parenthood, to connect with people who must travel for help.

The group plans to conduct more flights first in the Midwest, then in the South, two areas that have been hit particularly hard by the abortion ban. US troops voluntarily transport people seeking abortions across state lines

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