The Stars and Stripes recently reported that seven soldiers – three men and four women – were being reprimanded for violating the pregnancy ban in northern Iraq. In early November, the ban was added to General Order No. 1 by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, commander of troops in northern Iraq.
Since 2003, General Order No. 1 has prohibited more than a dozen activities that include drug use, alcohol consumption, gambling, proselytizing, sexual contact with a national and giving forbidden food to nationals. Many of the prohibitions are designed to reduce crime and promote good relations between troops and Iraqi nationals.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, General Order No. 1 contains additional restrictions about sexuality and intimate relationships that go beyond the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These rules tend to be restrictive compared to those applied to noncombat zone personnel.
The new ban applies to service personnel and civilian contractors serving under Cucolo’s command. Anyone who becomes pregnant or impregnates service personnel will be reprimanded. This includes married couples.
While there is no intention of court-martialing any personnel – and six of the seven soldiers have received nonpermanent written reprimands (the seventh was charged with adultery and fraternization with a subordinate) – the ban comes as a shock to many Americans who have no direct contact with the war or do not possess a full understanding of the rational behind Cucolo’s order.
Currently, it is standard practice and policy that any woman who becomes pregnant in the Iraq war theater is reassigned within 14 days. For the unit, the loss of personnel and the down time needed to get replacement personnel up to speed creates a vacuum in high-demand units. For the personnel, a written reprimand and reassignment are potentially damaging to one’s career and chances for promotion.
Either way, the issue of pregnancy in a war zone creates challenges for both the military and the service personnel. The more women are integrated into the U.S. military, the more prominent these challenges will become.
While many will suspect gender discrimination behind the ban, Cucolo was pretty clear to Stars and Stripes that the ban was about keeping soldiers on the ground. He proclaimed:
“The message to my female soldiers is that I need you for the duration … I can’t tell you how valuable my female soldiers are. They fly helicopters. They run satellites. They’re mechanics. They’re medics. Some of the best intelligence analysts I have happen to be female. You start losing them when you’re facing a drawdown, and you really hurt the unit.”
The ban has already added fuel to the women-in-combat debate and brought moral condemnation. Critics on both sides of the abortion debate have expressed concern.
Obviously, pro-lifers are concerned that the ban will lead to more military abortions in spite of the U.S. military’s refusal to provide or finance nontherapeutic abortions. The question of providing the “morning after pill” or “Plan B” to soldiers has already been raised. Stories of self-conducted abortions (coat-hanger abortions) have started to float around the Internet.
On the other hand, pro-choice and feminist groups are concerned about the limitations placed upon female soldiers. It is the denial of a basic human right: The right to produce offspring. In addition, there is concern that the men who are involved in these cases will not be treated equally to the women who become pregnant.
Pragmatically, the U.S. armed forces need to reconsider the growing number of career families that have both spouses serving and the growing number of married career female service personnel with nonmilitary husbands. The majority of soldiers affected by the ban are of child-bearing age. With the length of the war and repeat deployments, many young couples are left wondering when they can start a family.
In addition, the ban affects normal marital intimacy. Since sexual activity comes with the risk of pregnancy in spite of the best contraceptives, one should worry about how the ban will affect the relationship of many couples who are already under stress due to the length of the Iraqi conflict.
As more and more women are integrated into the armed forces, Christian ethicists and military commanders need to revisit traditional rules of sexuality. While the ban appears to be designed to curb the loss of service personnel, it needs to take into account those couples who have chosen to devote a significant part of their career to military service.
Human sexuality and pregnancy illustrate key aspects of our human nature. Sexual intimacy is a vital part of a thriving marital relationship where each partner is attempting to make an intimate emotional connection with another. It is a reflection of our relational nature. We cannot be authentically human without it.
In addition, the production of offspring is part of our nature and follows from God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply.” Both the relational and creative aspects of human sexuality are the reflection of the image each human bears from the creation.
Service personnel should not be forced to abandon their basic nature in favor of being good soldiers.
Monty M. Self is the oncology chaplain for the Baptist Health Medical Center – Little Rock and an adjunct instructor of ethics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.