Women Soldiers in Iraq Who Become Pregnant Face Court-Martial

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:15 By Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Women Soldiers in Iraq Who Become Pregnant Face  Court-Martial
(Photo: Tech. Sgt. William Greer / U.S. Air Force)

Update: Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo responds to Truthout's report.

Under a controversial new Army policy, female soldiers serving in northern Iraq may face a court-martial and possible jail time if they become pregnant and male soldiers and civilians employed by the Army who impregnate the women may also be charged with crimes.

The prohibition, introduced by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III and first reported by Stars and Stripes, has caused a furor among activists and in the veterans' community for the limitations it places on reproductive rights and personal privacy.

"It is so obviously outrageous," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women . "It is not up to the United States military to determine when and how often women will become pregnant, or determine whether a women carries a pregnancy to term or not."

According to the order, which has been in effect since November 4, the policy is "applicable to all United States military personnel, and to all civilians, serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military in northern Iraq and would be violated by "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne (Area of Operations), resulting in the redeployment of the pregnant soldier."

Current military policy requires that a pregnant soldier be taken out of Iraq within 14 days. Married couples serving together are allowed to live together, but if the wife becomes pregnant that too is a prosecutable offense under the new policy.

Cucolo called the issue "black and white." In an interview with the BBC, Cucolo said that soldiers in war zones should either put their love lives on the back burner, or take precautions.

"I've got a mission to do, I'm given a finite number of soldiers with which to do it and I need every one of them," Cucolo said. "So I'm going to take every measure I can to keep them all strong, fit and with me for the twelve months we are in the combat zone."

Kate Hoit, who served as an Army photojournalist in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, criticized  Cucolo for his narrow approach to the problem.

"Major General Cucolo is naive for thinking he can solve the pregnancy problem by banning it," she said in an op-ed article on VetVoice. "Does a commander or a platoon sergeant have the ability to keep track of their soldiers' every move? Not at all ... If you can't even enforce the rules already at hand, why attempt to take the next step?"

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School and is president of the National Institute of Military Justice, called the prohibition "a mare's nest of legal, ethical and policy issues ... Here you really have issues that go to the core of personal autonomy: reproductive rights." Fidell also said there are issues of enforcement - though men are equally culpable under the order, they could go unpunished unless identified by their partners.

The Department of Defense was not available for comment, but according to Col. David S. Thompson, inspector general for soldiers in Iraq, no one has yet been punished or accused under the new policy.

O'Neill said this is part of a larger curtailment and interference by the military in women's reproductive rights, which includes the continuing ban  on abortions for women at military bases overseas. She said she expects the threat of a court-martial for pregnancy, which has been reviewed and approved by military staff judges in Iraq, to be overturned by an administration for whom the female vote was crucial.

"This is the kind of misogyny that I fully expect the Obama administration will look at and say 'This isn't acceptable,' O'Neill said. "Women are essential to the success of the United States military and he [Cucolo] needs to treat them as such."
 

Yana Kunichoff

Yana Kunichoff is an assistant editor at Truthout.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 December 2009 18:04