Blog of Rights

Challenging the New York National Guard's Discriminatory Pregnancy Testing Policy

By Tammy Sullivan at 2:17pm

(Originally posted on Feministing.)

As a soldier in the National Guard, I believe that my job is to fight for freedom, including the freedom to stand up for what's right. That's why I decided to speak out about the mandatory pregnancy tests and discrimination against women soldiers at the New York National Guard.

I enjoy serving in the National Guard. I was originally a member of the Mississippi National Guard, and then I transferred to the New York National Guard. I am still enlisted in the Guard. I work as a broadcast journalist in my unit and in January 2008 I started working on a state active duty mission patrolling the airports. That's when I first learned about the Guard's practice of requiring women soldiers to take pregnancy tests.

After I had been on the state active duty task force full time for a few weeks, our superiors had all the women take a pregnancy test and told us we would have to take one every three months. In some ways, what was worse than the pregnancy test was having to sign a form — a "Statement of Understanding" — in which we had to agree that, if we got pregnant while we were on active duty, we would be released from duty — in other words, lose our jobs — and lose the medical benefits that families of soldiers are entitled to. Not only that, but our positions would not be guaranteed if we wanted to come back after the pregnancy.

Many of the soldiers, women and men, thought that the testing and the form were unfair. Men weren't required to sign a "Statement of Understanding" like the one we were told to sign, and when men on the force had babies, they did not lose their jobs and their families continued to receive health benefits. Men who were injured were allowed to stay on the task force doing "light duty" jobs.

I refused to sign the form, so I lost my job on the task force. I felt that the pregnancy testing was an invasion of privacy. Some of the other soldiers felt they had to sign the form because they couldn't afford to lose their jobs. A few of us tried to complain about the practice, but we were told we had to pick our battles. I went through the proper military channels: chain of command, IG [Inspector General], and JAG [Judge Advocate General] but was discouraged with the lack of support and general blasé attitude the military leadership took toward what I saw as a serious issue. That's when I decided to call the ACLU.

I'm glad that speaking up helped convince the Guard to change its policy and get rid of the mandatory pregnancy testing and the pregnancy form. Under the new policy, all soldiers sign the same form . The new policy will still have an unfair effect on pregnant women, almost all of whom will have to leave the force eventually, at least to give birth. It would be more fair if all soldiers who have children could keep their jobs and their families' health benefits throughout the pregnancy and birth, but at least now the Guard will not be testing women or making women sign forms that don't apply to the other soldiers.

To listen to a podcast of Tammy discussing the case with ACLU Women's Rights Project Staff Attorney Ariela Migdal, click here .

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