US Military drops pregnancy penalty in Iraq

Gen. Ray Odierno announced yesterday that a new code of conduct for soldiers in Iraq which goes into effect Jan. 1 will not include a controversial rule penalizing "all United States military personnel, and... all civilians, serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military in northern Iraq for impregnating a soldier, but only soldiers for getting pregnant. The policy also applied to married couples.

The ban on pregnancy was instituted in November by Major General Anthony Cuculo III when he took command of Multi-National Division-North, including Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul and Samarra. It only applies to personnel under his command.

Cuculo's command defended the rule as a stop loss policy. "When a soldier becomes pregnant or causes a soldier to become pregnant through consensual activity," [a spokesman] said, "the redeployment of the pregnant soldier creates a void in the unit and has a negative impact on the unit's ability to accomplish its mission. Another soldier must assume the pregnant soldier's responsibilities."

Cuculo himself defended the ban as recently as Tuesday as a tool for making women take pregnancy more seriously. "The message to my female soldiers is that I need you for the duration. Please think before you act... I can't tell you how valuable my female soldiers are. They fly helicopters. They run satellites. They're mechanics. They're medics. Some of the best intelligence analysts I have happen to be female. You start losing them when you're facing a drawdown, and you really hurt the unit."

Seven soldiers have been sanctioned under the rule so far. Four pregnant women (out of 1,700 serving under Cuculo) and two of their correspondents have had letters of reprimand placed in their files which will not be transferred to their permanent military jacket. A noncommissioned officer who was found to be committing adultery got a permanent letter of reprimand. Pregnant women can face court martial, although Cuculo says he would voluntarily refrain from doing that.

The fourth pregnant woman refused to identify the father, and incidentally made it fairly clear who it is that Cuculo is most interested in sanctioning. He says that his unit "let it drop" and has "no plans" to find out who the man is who disobeyed his order is, because "I'm in a war zone. I don't have time for that."

Four Democratic Senators (Barbara Boxer, Barbara Mikulski, Jeanne Shaheen and Kristen Gillibrand) sent a letter asking Army Secretary John McHugh to drop the ban. "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."

Odierno's unified code of regulations for Iraq will prevent local commanders from imposing more-restrictive rules without express written permission from the Commander of United States Forces - Iraq (currently, Odierno).


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