By Mark Memmott
There's a growing buzz on the Web and the cable news networks about a U.S. commander's decision to punish any female soldiers under his command in Iraq if they become pregnant, and to also punish any male soldiers who impregnate a fellow soldier.
Stars and Stripes, which has been ahead of other news media on the story, reports today that "seven U.S. soldiers, including three men, have already been punished under six-week-old rules making pregnancy a violation of military law in northern Iraq."
They were not court-martialed. Six were given letters of reprimand that will not be part of their permanent files, Stars and Stripes says. The seventh was given a letter that will be part of his permanent file because he is married and had an affair with a female subordinate who became pregnant.
As Fox News reports, Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo says he's issued the order because "I've got a 22,000-man task force and I need every soldier I've got. We are facing a drawdown and anyone that leaves earlier than the expected 12 months creates a burden on their teammates. ... My female soldiers are invaluable -- many of them hold high impact jobs. In general, my troops are few in number and I need them all."
Cucolo also told Fox that the rule applies equally to men. "It's not in step with the warrior ethos," he said. "We have to keep an eye on every soldier and so men who break this rule are subject to the same punishments."
CNN adds that "0f the 22,000 people under Cucolo's command, 1,682 are women."
ABC News reports that "National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill said the policy infringes on women's rights":
"How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant," O'Neill said. "This is not the 1800s."
We'll keep the question open for two days.
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. Here is a copy of the commander's order. The section about pregnancy is on page 4. The order prohibits "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a soldier, while assigned to Task Force Marne AOR, resulting in the redeployment of the pregnant soldier":