Monday, December 21, 2009

Army General Makes Pregnancy Punishable Offense in Iraq

A high-ranking Army official's new policy making pregnancy among troops in Iraq an offense punishable by court-martial is raising eyebrows even though experts say he is well within his rights to do so.

According to the Nov. 4 general order of Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III, a commander in northern Iraq, the punishment would apply not only to the female soldiers who become pregnant, but also to the male soldiers who impregnate them, even if the couple is married.

Cucolo told ABC News that the policy, believed to be the first of its kind, was necessary to avoid losing valuable troops in his 22,000-member command.

"I need every soldier I've got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12-month deployment creates a burden on their teammates," he said in a statement.

"Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status -- or contributes to doing that to another -- is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos, 'I will always place the mission first,' or three of our seven core values: loyalty, duty and selfless service," he continued. "And I believe there should be negative consequences for making that personal choice. "

The pregnancy policy is just one provision in a larger general order which also prohibits soldiers from sexual contact with Iraqis or third-party nationals who are not members of coalition forces.

Provisions in the Nov. 4 order are also applicable to civilians under Cucolo's command.

"I do not expect those who have never served in the military to completely understand what I have tried to explain above," Cucolo wrote. "Recently I was asked, 'Don't you think you are treading on an intensely personal topic?' As intensely personal as this topic might be, leaving those who depend on you shorthanded in a combat zone gets to be personal for those left, too."

John Hutson, a former longtime military judge advocate and currently the president and dean of Franklin Pierce Law School in New Hampshire, said it's well within Cucolo's rights to hand down such an order, especially if pregnancy has become a serious issue within his ranks.

When a woman becomes pregnant, "you've taken somebody and you've made her less effective," he said. "And I think its only fair that if you do that with the woman than the man be held equally culpable."

"It's not saying you can't have sex," Hutson said. "You have to take precautions."

Still, he added, "in some respects, it flies in the face of family values."

Also, soldiers found to be pregnant are sent back to the U.S. in short order and Kastl said he has heard anecdotal evidence of female soldiers intentionally getting pregnant to be sent home.

Because of that, he said, "I can see why they're doing it."

Kastl noted that the Army already encourages its female soldiers to take medication to stop their menstrual cycle. And in some cases, Cucolo's order may be redundant since the Army already prohibits fraternization between superiors and subordinates, though it seemingly has no current take on sexual contact between members of the same rank.

But Hutson worried that Cucolo's policy could cause an increase in abortions overseas. And since military hospitals do not perform such procedures, female officers may find abortions are available not "in the way you want them," Hutson said, forcing women to potentially dangerous providers of such services.

Kastl theorized that the punishment handed down to those who violate Cucolo's order would likely be handled as a violation of Article 91, or violation of a general order, which is punishable by up to one or two years in prison.

But he said it's unlikely the Army would actually keep an expectant mother or father behind bars for that length of time.

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No Link Seen Between Acetaminophen, Birth Defects

New study findings offer reassurance to pregnant women that acetaminophen does not appear to raise the risk of birth defects.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and certain other painkillers, and is often found in over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. Taken as directed, acetaminophen is considered safe during pregnancy, making it the medication of choice for pregnant women's body aches and fevers.

However, there are still some questions about whether the drug can contribute to birth defects. Studies looking at birth defects as a broad group have either found no link to acetaminophen use or have yielded inconclusive findings.

Some research, meanwhile, has suggested that the drug may be linked to a higher risk of a birth defect called gastroschisis -- but other studies have found no such connection. Gastroschisis refers to a defect in the abdominal wall that allows the intestines to protrude; it has been linked to aspirin use during pregnancy.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from a large U.S. study that included more than 11,600 children born with congenital defects such as spina bifida, cleft lip and various defects affecting the brain, heart, lungs, limbs and gastrointestinal system. They were compared with 4,500 children born with no major anomaly.

Overall, the study found, there was no evidence linking mothers' acetaminophen use in the first trimester to a heightened risk of any birth defect.

In fact, women who took the medication to treat a first-trimester fever had a lower risk of certain birth defects -- including gastroschisis -- than women who did not treat their fevers with acetaminophen.

Researchers led by Dr. Marcia L. Feldkamp, of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, report the findings in the January 2010 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Among women who had fevers in early pregnancy, babies born to those who used acetaminophen had a 65 percent to 83 percent lower risk of certain birth defects of the brain, a 56 percent lower risk of cleft lip and a 59 percent lower risk of gastroschisis.

The researchers note that hyperthermia, or excessively high body temperature, has been implicated in the risks of certain birth defects. More studies, they conclude, are needed to confirm whether treating fevers with acetaminophen does in fact prevent some birth defects.

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