Commander Says He Won’t Court-Martial Pregnant Soldiers, Refuses To Make Plan B More Available

This week, news outlets reported on a controversial new policy that threatens women soldiers on active duty who become pregnant — and the men who impregnate them — with jailtime. Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo issued the new rule, which took effect on Nov. 4, “because he said he was losing too many women with critical skills” and needed the threat of jail and a court martial as an “extra deterrent.”

Since the news of the directive came out, Cucolo has faced strong criticism from women’s rights advocates. The National Organization for Women (NOW) called it “ridiculous.” Four women Democratic U.S. senators — Barbara Boxer (CA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) — wrote a letter to Cucolo urging him to rescind the policy, saying they could “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.”

Yesterday, Cucolo clarified the directive, saying he has no plans to court-martial pregnant women:

While violation of any of the rules in “General Order Number 1” could lead to court-martial, Cucolo said he never intended such a drastic punishment for pregnancy.

“I believe that I can handle violations of this aspect with lesser degrees of punishment,” Cucolo told reporters. “I have not ever considered court-martial for this. I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this.”

The general said he alone would decide on each case based on the individual circumstances.

So far, there have been “eight cases of women getting pregnant while deployed under his command. Four were given letters of reprimand that were put in their local files, which means they would not end up in their permanent files and they would not be a factor in being considered for promotions. The four other women found out they were pregnant soon after they deployed; because they were not impregnated while deployed, no disciplinary action was taken.” Watch an ABC News report that aired last night on the controversy:

Even though women under Cucolo’s command may not be jailed for becoming pregnant, pregnancies are still strongly discouraged. However, Cucolo said that he has no plans to expand soldiers’ access to emergency contraception (Plan B). “We do not provide any abortive services to our soldiers,” he told reporters yesterday. “There’s nothing like that here.” Military physicians are currently barred from performing abortions on bases overseas, but Plan B has nothing to do with having an abortion. Emergency contraception is often hard to find at U.S. military bases around the world, since health facilities are “allowed to stock contraception but aren’t required to.” Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) recently introduced legislation that would require them to stock the contraceptives.