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Top U.S. Commander: Women Who Become Pregnant While On Active Duty Face Jailtime

Major General Anthony Cucolo, who is responsible for operations in northern Iraq, has issued a controversial new policy — which went into effect on Nov. 4 — that allows throwing women servicemembers on active duty in jail if they become pregnant:

Under the new policy, troops expecting a baby face court martial and a possible prison term — and so do the men who made them pregnant. And the rule applies to married couples at war together, who are expected to make sure their love lives do not interfere with duty.

Usual US Army policy is to send pregnant soldiers home from combat zones within 14 days.

But Major General Anthony Cucolo, who runs US operations in northern Iraq, issued the new orders because he said he was losing too many women with critical skills. He needed the threat of court martial and jail time as an extra deterrent, he said.

All troops under his command are covered by the extension to the military’s legal code — the first time the US Army has made pregnancy a punishable offence.

Military staff judge advocates for the Army have reviewed and approved the policy. The policy is legal under military law, but it raises “a mare’s nest of legal, ethical and policy issues.” For example, while the policy does say that a man who impregnates a woman will receive equal punishment, it may be difficult to identify him unless the woman reveals who he is.

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Additionally, it’s unclear what will happen to a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant. She would technically be eligible for jailtime, but if she is unable to identify her attacker(s), they may go free. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are severe problems in the military. In May, the Pentagon reported that it had “received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That’s about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.”

With the military resorting to these extreme tactics to retain soldiers with “critical skills,” it’s another reminder about why the Obama administration needs to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Update:

ThinkProgress received a copy of Cucolo’s full general order, in which he makes clear that cases of sexual assault that result in pregnancy will not be covered under the new policy:

To ensure a consistent and measured approach in applying this policy, I am the only individual who passes judgment on these cases. I decide every case based on the unique facts of each Soldier’s situation. Of the very few cases handled thus far, it has been a male Soldier who received the most severe punishment; he committed adultery as well. Though there have not been any cases of sexual assault, any pregnancy that is the product of a sexual assault would most certainly not be considered here; our total focus would be on the health and well-being of the victim and justice for the perpetrator.