After a week of public controversy and recriminations from a group of US senators, the US military in northern Iraq has backed out of a new policy that could see soldiers court-martialed for becoming pregnant or impregnating another soldier.
A reorganization of US forces in Iraq, to take effect Jan. 1, means US soldiers stationed there will be receiving new standing orders, and the prohibition on pregnancy is not among the new orders, reports Stars & Stripes.
Controversy has been swirling since last week, when Stars & Stripes reported on the policy implemented in November under Maj.-Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, the commander of US forces in northern Iraq. Cucolo had argued that he needed to implement the policy in order to stem a loss of soldiers from the battlefield, and insisted the policy reflected how important he believed female soldiers to be to his unit.
But four US senators — Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) — wrote a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh asking the Pentagon to rescind the policy because it can harm both the mother and child. Stars & Stripes reports:
“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.”
CNN suggests that Maj.-Gen. Cucolo may have been overruled in his policy by higher-ups in the US’s Iraq forces.
The military also said that any unit must get the permission of the commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq before creating new rules restricting the activity of troops, [US Forces-Iraq spokesman Maj. Joe] Scrocca said.
…In an e-mail Friday to CNN, Scrocca wrote that from now on, “all requests by subordinate units to impose further restrictions of activities addressed in General Order No. 1 will require approval of the USF-I commander.”
Cucolo had no immediate response. His division said he was spending Christmas Day visiting soldiers.
Cucolo has spent much of the last week defending the pregnancy ban, telling ABC News that he never intended to send pregnant soldiers to jail, even if the policy allowed it.
“I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court martial for a violation … none,” Cucolo said. “I fully intend to handle these cases through lesser disciplinary action.”
So far, under the policy that will disappear next week, seven US soldiers have been disciplined. None faced court-martial; six received non-permanent reprimands.