The U.S. military has dropped its controversial new policy which called for punishing soldiers in northern Iraq for becoming pregnant or impregnating another soldier.
Under the order, which went into effect on Nov. 4, any soldier who became pregnant or impregnated another service member– including married couples serving in the same unit– could face a court-martial and jail time as issued by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo. The Major General cited existing Army policy as justification; presently the military is required to remove a pregnant soldier from a war zone within 14 days of learning of her pregnancy, creating a disruptive vacancy for units on mission.
Even as of last week, a poll of 15,395 respondents on NBC’s site suggested that many Americans saw no issue with the pregnancy ban. When asked, “Do you agree with the Army general in Iraq banning pregnancy among emergency personnel?” a whopping 69% answered yes. Only 29% said no, while 2% remained undecided.
While there are obvious dangers surrounding pregnant soldiers, the measure was yet another by the United States military which left me wondering if it’s even Constitutional to so blatantly and institutionally exclude or debilitate women. Apparently, it’s not.
The change in policy comes just two weeks after Independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes first reported on the issue, inviting scrutiny:
Among the critics were four Democratic senators who wrote a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, asking him to rescind the pregnancy restriction.
“This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for the mother and child,” said the letter signed by Barbara Boxer, Barbara Mikulski, Jeanne Shaheen and Kristen Gillibrand. ”We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished for simply conceiving a child. That defies comprehension.”
Cucolo said this week said that seven soldiers – four women and three men – had faced administrative punishment for violating the pregnancy rule. Though he spent much of the last week defending the policy, he now has “no intention of court-martialing the violators.”
Still, the military remains plagued by a myriad of gendered issues. Women serving in Iraq are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire; menstruation is an acceptable justification for keeping the Navy SEALs a boys-only club; and patriarchal criteria determine which soldiers make the cut.
While repealing this policy is certainly a step in the right direction, the military might want to consider providing access to birth control and abortion if it really wants to encourage responsible family planning among its soldiers. As ThinkProgress notes, Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would also likely lessen military attrition. For now, though, it remains that a few horrific amateur abortions and the loss of thousands of gay soldiers are a small price to pay for the illusion of purity.
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