Four Democratic senators have written a letter to an Army general in Iraq asking him to rescind an order that threatened to court martial female soldiers who become pregnant while deployed in the war zone.
The policy by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III was instituted on Nov. 4, but it has triggered outrage among women's groups since it became publicly known in recent days.
"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," the senators wrote to Cucolo today. "This defies comprehension. As such, we urge you to immediately recind this policy."
The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
It was the latest salvo to hit Cucolo over the controvesial policy. Earlier the National Organization for Women called the policy "ridiculous."
"How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant," NOW President Terry O'Neill said. "This is not the 1800s."
O'Neill said NOW would turn to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and even President Obama for help.
Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" at 6:30 p.m. ET today for more on Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo's restriction on pregnancy in Iraq.
Even before the senators took aim at Cucolo's policy, the general had backed away from his threat today to court martial women under his command who got pregnant. His policy statement said violation of the rule would also apply to the men who get female soldiers pregnant, even if the couple is married.
"I regret that the term court martial is bandied about or mentioned," Cucolo said from Iraq in a conference call. "I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this."
Pregnant soldiers are immediately redeployed out of combat zones to bases where they can get comprehensive medical care.
"The true purpose behind this is to cause them to pause and think about, 'Okay wait a minute. It was written in the order and I'm going to leave my team. I'm going to leave an outfit shorthanded,'" Cucolo said.
Cucolo said that he was not surprised by the reaction and intense interest in his general order, but that those outside the military may not be able to fully understand his motivation.
"I will listen to critics. They provide thought, but they don't actually have to do anything," he said. ""I have a very complex mission."
Cucolo said that in the eight weeks his policy has been in force, four women soldiers were redeployed because they had become pregnant in violation of Cucolo's order. 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 addition to the four women who got pregnant while on duty in Iraq, Cucolo said four other female soldiers were sent home because they found out they were pregnant, but had become pregnant before being sent to Iraq.