Pregnant Servicewomen Now Face Jail Time

In what may be the worst military reproductive rights policy yet (and there's a lot of competition), one general has decided that soldiers under his command can be court-martialed and jailed for getting pregnant.

The Army announced Friday that soldiers under Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who commands forces in northern Iraq, would be subject to prosecution if they became pregnant. Male soldiers who impregnate female service members could also be court-martialed. The rule is apparently aimed at reducing attrition, since pregnant soldiers are usually sent home within 14 days. Army spokesman Maj. Lee Peters says, "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." And Cucolo himself adds,

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. 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.

But as military law professor Eugene Fidell points out, "Here you really have issues that go to the core of personal integrity: reproductive rights." In addition to the basic issue of whether pregnancy should ever be a criminal offense, the policy has a number of upsetting implications. Enforcement will likely disproportionately affect women, as it's much easier to tell who's pregnant than who impregnated her. And there's no apparent provision for women who are raped. Add this to the fact that military bases aren't required to provide emergency contraception, and that abortions are banned at military hospitals, and you have an environment where women are both forced to remain pregnant and punished for doing so.

Of course, the solution the military would like to encourage is total abstinence for all service members. Cucolo's policy also prohibits soldiers from having sex with Iraqis, or from spending the night with a member of the opposite sex unless married or granted explicit permission. But across-the-board abstinence is just as unrealistic for soldiers as it is for anyone else, and the military might want to provide reliable access to birth control and, yes, to abortion if it really wants to encourage responsible family planning among soldiers. Another way to lessen military attrition, ThinkProgress points out, would be to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But for now, sex in the military is only okay if you keep it a secret — because apparently a few horrific amateur abortions and the loss of thousands of gay service members are a small price to pay for the illusion of purity.

U.S. Personnel In Iraq Could Face Court-Martial For Getting Pregnant [Stars and Stripes]
Top U.S. Commander: Women Who Become Pregnant While On Active Duty Face Jailtime [ThinkProgress]
Pregnant G.I.'s Could Be Punished [AP, via NYT]
Pregnant US Troops In Iraq Could Face Jail Time [Sphere]
Military Abortions: No Good Choices [Broadsheet]
Tell Congress: Protect The Health Of Servicewomen Abroad [NARAL Pro-Choice America]