Under a new policy announced today, women in the New York National Guard serving on a state active duty task force will no longer be required to take mandatory pregnancy tests or face dismissal from the force if they become pregnant. Instead, they will be treated the same as men who become injured or disabled during a state active duty mission. The change occurred in response to objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU’s New York State affiliate.
Soldiers in the New York National Guard had alerted the ACLU about a discriminatory policy requiring women in active duty positions to take periodic pregnancy tests and to periodically sign a form agreeing that becoming pregnant would end their assignments and cancel all associated health benefits, including health benefits for their families. In contrast, male National Guard soldiers on state active duty whose spouses became pregnant were not fired and their families retained health benefits.
“I hope this change will enable women to come forward if they feel they are being discriminated against. Many soldiers were against this policy of pregnancy testing but feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke up,” said Tammy Sullivan, a soldier in the New York National Guard. “The new policy is a step in the right direction to protecting a woman's right to privacy and ending discrimination against women in the military.”
The ACLU and NYCLU brought their concerns to Governor David A. Paterson’s administration, which resulted in discussions that culminated with this new policy.
“It’s blatantly unfair to dismiss women from National Guard state active duty missions if they are pregnant or refuse to sign a form agreeing to be kicked off a mission if they become pregnant,” said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We are pleased that state officials looked into this discriminatory practice as soon as it was brought to their attention and took swift steps to change the policy.”
Under the new policy, being pregnant no longer automatically disqualifies soldiers from state active duty service, pregnancy tests are not required and women soldiers do not have to sign a special form. The policy now simply requires all soldiers to sign a form indicating their understanding that in order to remain on a state active duty mission they must be physically able to perform all tasks associated with their mission, including physical training drills.
However, under the new policy, pregnant soldiers will be dismissed from state active duty when their pregnancy advances to the point that they cannot physically perform the mission. No alternative assignments, like desk jobs, are available.
“While we are pleased that this blatant discrimination has been addressed, the new policy will still have a disparate impact on women soldiers who will eventually become unable to serve if they become pregnant,” said Galen Sherwin, Director of the Reproductive Rights Project at the NYCLU. “No one who is willing and able to contribute to missions of such vital importance should be dismissed and have their health benefits cut simply because they are unable to perform certain tasks due to injury or pregnancy.”