Naval Academy's Pregnancy Policy

June 05, 1995

Military academies are no place for students shouldering the responsibilities of parenthood. The demands are simply too great.

Taxpayers subsidize the education of the men and women attending these military institutions with the understanding that they will single-mindedly prepare themselves for a career defending the nation. All three service academies prohibit students with dependents, and that is the way it should stay.

This said, the U.S. Naval Academy's policy of immediate dismissal of any midshipman who becomes pregnant or causes a pregnancy requires rethinking.

Yes, the policy achieves the goal of keeping the brigade free of students physically and emotionally encumbered by pregnancy or child-rearing. But it offers midshipmen neither time nor opportunity to make choices and set priorities at this critical juncture in their lives. It disqualifies a student based on a biological event rather than on his or her decision about how to handle that event.

Academy Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson apparently also finds fault with the dogmatism of the existing rule; he suspended it last August and is still reviewing alternatives. One of the options he considered -- allowing women to remain at the academy if they end a pregnancy within 30 days -- has been rejected by the superintendent, as it should have been.

What kind of choice is it to tell a woman she can pursue her military career if she has an abortion -- an option she may find practically and morally abhorrent? Such a policy also ignores the rights of a father caught between his desire to raise his own child and a woman who wants to continue her career badly enough that, absent other alternatives, she'll consider abortion.

Annapolis needs to search only as far as the other service academies for a solution. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Col., both provide for one-year leaves to give students facing impending parenthood time to evaluate all the difficult choices, then decide which is best for them. Those who want to return to school but object to abortion would be able to bear the child and make arrangements for adoption or appointment of a guardian, then resume academy life. It's a reasonable policy that offers the individual compassion and control over his or her future without compromising the institution.

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