Pregnant Soldiers in War Zone Won't be Punished

Top U.S. General in Iraq, Countermanding Subordinate, Rescinds Order to Punish Pregnant Soldiers


Dec. 25, 2009—

The top U.S. commander in Iraq rescinded a controversial order by a subordinate general intended to punish soldiers who became pregnant while serving in a war zone.

Gen. Raymond Odierno has drafted a broad new policy for the U.S. 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.

Earlier this week Cucolo said the policy was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers go home and leave behind a weaker unit.

Cucolo's order set off a firestorm of criticism this week, including condemnation by four Democratic senators who wrote Odierno a letter calling for the order to be overturned.

"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. "This defies comprehension. As such, we urge you to immediately rescind 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.

That was the latest salvo to hit Cucolo over the controversial 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.

Even before the senators took aim at Cucolo's policy, the general had backed away from his threat to court martial women under his command who got pregnant.

"I regret that the term court martial is bandied about or mentioned," Cucolo said from Iraq in a conference call earlier this week. "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.

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.

"Will some soldiers hear this, read this and say 'Well that's nothing?' Sure, they might," Cuculo said. "But I've got 22,000 incredible soldiers who are incredible Americans and I'm counting on them to do the right thing." Of the soldiers in his command, 1,682 are women.

Court Martial Threat for Pregnant Soldiers Draws Fire

Cucolo said the Army does not provide emergency contraception or abortive services and does not intend to start.

There's "only discussion about appropriate behavior and consideration of the impact of getting pregnant, of getting someone pregnant," he said. "That's the only discussion that's taken place. Nothing about pills."

"Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status -- or contributes to doing that to another -- is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos, 'I will always place the mission first,' or three of our seven core values: loyalty, duty and selfless service," he continued. "And I believe there should be negative consequences for making that personal choice. "

The pregnancy policy was just one provision in a larger general order that also prohibits soldiers from sexual contact with Iraqis or third-party nationals who are not members of coalition forces.

U.S. 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. The order would consolidate several general orders from the U.S. commanders across Iraq.

Previously, the commanders have had the authority to draft their own restrictions.

ABC News' Aadel Rashid and Zachary Wolf contributed to this story. The Associated Press contributed to this story.