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Court-martial for pregnant soldiers? General backs off under fire.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo clarifies his order allowing court-martial for soldiers who become pregnant or who impregnate a colleague in a war zone, saying Tuesday that any punishment is unlikely to come to that.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer / December 22, 2009

Forty-three soldiers from the 467th Medical Detachment based out of Madison, WI headed to the airport for their deployment to Afghanistan from Fort Hood, Texas, on Dec. 4.

Thao Nguyen/AP

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Washington

An American commander in Iraq has backed down on a controversial stance he took last month that threatened court-martial for soldiers who became pregnant or who got someone pregnant.

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Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who commands US forces in the northern sector of Iraq, issued a general order last month in which he stated that getting someone pregnant or becoming pregnant as a way to get out of a deployment could be punishable under the military court system, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, to include court-martial.

But after an angry response from women’s rights groups and others, Cucolo on Tuesday appeared to retreat from that stance. While he retains the authority to court-martial a soldier under those circumstances, he said, the punishment would be unlikely to go that far.

"I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this," Cucolo said in a conference call with reporters. He noted that he'd had four cases of pregnancy in a war zone so far, and in each case the soldier received a letter of reprimand and nothing more.

Usual punishment: exit war zone

Typically, female soldiers who become pregnant in a war zone are sent back to their home stations but not punished. While commanders discourage soldiers from having sex in a war zone, military rules do not typically prohibit sexual activity between two consenting, unmarried adults. Yet Cucolo's order said women who get pregnant – and the men who impregnate them – could face charges. Commanders have always had the authority to punish soldiers under a general order, but this new order was the first time that authority has been spelled out.

Four Democratic senators wrote the Army Tuesday to demand that the "deeply misguided" order be rescinded immediately.

"Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martial under this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline," the letter stated in part. "This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child." The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

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