Top Army Commander Rescinds Controversial Order Criminalizing Pregnancy

Top Army Commander Rescinds Controversial Order Criminalizing Pregnancy

A controversial policy implemented last month by the Army general commanding soldiers in Northern Iraq that criminalized pregnancy was rescinded following an outcry from women’s groups and fierce criticism by four Democratic lawmakers.

According to a report published on ABC News’ website Friday, “Gen. Raymond Odierno [the top US commander in Iraq] has drafted a broad new policy for the US forces in Iraq that will take effect Jan. 1, but which does not include a provision issued last month by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo that disciplined both soldiers who became pregnant and their military sex partners.”

A spokesman for US Forces-Iraq told CNN that permission must now be obtained from Odierno before any policy restricting troop activity is instituted.

As Truthout reported earlier this week, the pregnancy policy, in effect since November 4, said “becoming pregnant, or impregnating a soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne (Area of Operations), resulting in the redeployment of the pregnant soldier” could result in a court-martial and jail time.

The rule applied to “all United States military personnel, and to all civilians, serving with, employed by, or accompanying” the Army in northern Iraq. 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 Army policy.

The policy was part of General Order No. 1, which also prohibited US troops from drinking alcohol, possessing pornographic material and engaging in sexual relations with Iraqis and third party nationals who were not afilliated with coalition forces.

Since the policy has been in place, Cucolo, who has 22,00 people, including 1,682 women, under his command, told ABC News, that four female soldiers had to be redeployed because they became pregnant.

According to ABC News:

The four women and two male soldiers received letters of reprimand that will not remain in their permanent military files.

A third male soldier, he said, was also punished for getting a female soldier pregnant. He was a noncommissioned officer who was committing adultery. He was also charged with fraternization and given a permanent letter of reprimand. In that case, the man was a sergeant and the female a junior soldier.

One of the pregnant women declined to identify the person who got her pregnant, Cucolo said.

In lengthy response to Truthout’s report, Cucolo acknowledged that the guidelines he put into place would not fully be understood by civilians, but he defended it, saying he “need[s] every Soldier I’ve got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12-month deployment creates a burden on their teammates.”

“My female Soldiers are absolutely invaluable, many of them holding high-impact jobs that are often few in numbers, and we need them all for the duration of this deployment…,” Cucolo said in an email sent to Truthout December 22. “Since I am responsible and accountable for the fighting ability of this outfit, I am going to do everything I can to keep my combat power — and in the Army, combat power is the individual Soldier.

“To this end, I made an existing policy stricter. I wanted to encourage my Soldiers to think before they acted, and understand their behavior and actions have consequences — all of their behavior. I consider the male Soldier as responsible for taking a Soldier out of the fight just as responsible as the female Soldier who must redeploy.”

Last Tuesday, four senators sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh said the order was “deeply misguided” and demanded that it immediately be rescinded.

“We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child,” says the letter, signed by Senators Barbara Boxer, (D-California), Barbara Mikulski, (D-Maryland), Jeanne Shaheen, (D-New Hampshire), and Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-New York).

Groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) also condemned Cucolo’s order. In an interview with Truthout intern Yana Kunichoff, Terry O’Neill, NOW’s president, said it’s “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.”

ABC News said US military leaders in Iraq “conducted a full review of all existing orders as part of the ongoing transition in Iraq, and a new general order has been drafted,” which does not include the pregnancy policy.