Abortion Debate Snarls Space Command Future as Biden Taps New Leader

Lt Gen. Stephen Whiting salutes during a change of command ceremony
Lt Gen. Stephen Whiting, Commander, Space Operations Command, salutes the command during the Space Delta 6 change of command ceremony at Schriever SFB, Colorado, Friday, September 9, 2022. (U.S. Space Force photo by Dennis Rogers)

President Joe Biden has nominated Space Force's Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting to be promoted as the leader of U.S. Space Command. If confirmed, he will be responsible for the military's warfighting operations outside the Earth's atmosphere.

But the combatant command Whiting has been nominated to take over still does not have a final basing location, as lawmakers from Alabama and Colorado continue to squabble over the headquarters' home state -- a decision that has languished since President Donald Trump's administration.

Additionally, Whiting's nomination comes as Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., continues to hold up all high-level promotions in the Senate in protest of the Pentagon's policy allowing troops leave for civilian abortion services, leading to uncertainty when the Space Force officer will be approved for his next post.

Read Next: Space Force Guardian Makes History as Top Basic Training Graduate

Cole Stevens, a spokesman for Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed to Military.com that Whiting's nomination is to lead U.S. Space Command. His nomination was sent to the Senate on Monday.

If confirmed, Whiting will take over the role from Army Gen. James Dickinson, who has been the SPACECOM commander since August 2020.

Whiting is currently the commander of Space Operations Command at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, a role he's held since October 2020.

He is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to his service biography. Other leadership roles have included commanding the 13th Space Warning Squadron; the 614th Air and Space Operations Center and Joint Space Operations Center; the 21st Space Wing; and the Combined Force Space Component Command and 14th Air Force.

Whiting, if confirmed, will be taking over Space Command at a time where the organization has become a political football.

In January 2021, during the last days of the Trump administration, the Department of the Air Force selected the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred location for Space Command's permanent headquarters.

Since that announcement, members of Colorado's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., have been fighting to have the decision reviewed in hopes of keeping the base, as well as 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact, in their home state.

Two watchdog reports, one by the Pentagon's inspector general and another by the Government Accountability Office, requested by members of Colorado's delegation in Congress, followed. The reports did not point to any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base, but did scrutinize the process for choosing the location.

The basing decision has now languished for two and a half years, and the fight over whether the SPACECOM headquarters should move to Huntsville -- a decision made during the Trump administration -- or remain in Colorado Springs has become increasingly political. Notably, the Supreme Court's ruling last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, has also been viewed as a potential factor impacting the decision, according to Colorado and Alabama lawmakers.

Moving Space Command from Colorado, where abortion access is unrestricted, to Alabama, where it is illegal with limited exceptions, has raised concerns.

Pentagon policy allowing service members to more easily travel to other states to obtain abortions from civilian medical providers has come into Tuberville's crosshairs. The Alabama Republican has single-handedly delayed hundreds military promotions over the issue, though he has been careful not to connect his blockade to the Space Command basing fight.

On Thursday, Biden blasted Tuberville's hold on military promotions during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, calling it a major risk to national security.

"He's jeopardizing U.S. security by what he's doing," Biden said of Tuberville, according to The Associated Press. "It's just totally irresponsible, in my view."

Tuberville continued to hold firm on his stance after being made aware of Biden's comment.

"There's no chance of changing my position if we don't sit down and visit," Tuberville told CNN in response to Biden's comments. "I mean, that's what you do up here, supposedly. I'm sure he did that over his career of being a senator, but [if] he doesn't want to do it, we won't do it. We'll just keep going."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Lawmakers Pressure Air Force to Finally Make Space Command HQ Basing Decision

Story Continues