- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

The Virginia Military Institute plans to dismiss any female cadet who becomes pregnant or male cadet who impregnates a woman, on or off campus, while attending the state-supported school.
"One cannot be a parent and a cadet at the same time," VMI spokesman Lt. Col. Charles J. Steenburgh said yesterday. "To be a good parent, you don't leave and go to school and be somewhere else."
The policy, likely to be instituted this fall, has united politically disparate groups, with pro-life activists and civil liberties supporters alike criticizing it. Some argue it will pressure female cadets into having abortions; others condemn it as an invasion of privacy.
Though the school's administration has not yet crafted specific regulations, the resolution that was adopted by VMI's board of visitors in May states: "A VMI cadet who chooses to marry, or to undertake the duties of a parent (including causing a pregnancy by voluntary act), chooses to forgo his or her commitment to the Corps of Cadets and his or her VMI education. Such a cadet will be expected to resign from VMI."
If the policy and its regulations stand, they would be the toughest among military academies, including the federally supported service academies, which allow enrolled women who have become pregnant to take a leave of absence from their school.
"Young women are being punished for being pregnant," said Laura Echevarria, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee. "There is nothing honorable about taking the life of an unborn child and nothing honorable about forcing a young woman who feels that is the only thing she can do."
Marcia Greenberger, president of the pro-choice National Women's Law Center, said the new policy violates the Constitution's equal protection clause, federal Title IX sex-discrimination laws and repro- ductive laws.
"They could be facing abortion when they want the pregnancy to go to term," Ms. Greenberger said.
Kent Willis, executive director for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "Women will have to make a painful choice" should they get pregnant.
"The practical consequence is that any woman who is pregnant is going to be forced into getting an abortion or leaving the school," Mr. Willis said.
VMI has admitted female cadets since 1997, after the Supreme Court ruled its all-male policy was unconstitutional.
The first full class of female cadets graduated in May.
In February, the school disclosed that a cadet — identified only as a junior from Virginia — was pregnant. She is due at the end of this month. VMI's new policy would not affect the pregnant cadet or any other cadet, male or female, who may be a parent prior to when the regulations go into effect.
Mr. Steenburgh said it is likely the regulations will be hammered out by the beginning of the fall semester, which begins in August.
Virginia's acting attorney general, Randolph A. Beales, would be responsible for defending the school should any lawsuits be brought against it. The attorney general's office has been working with VMI to craft both the policy and the regulations, said Randy Davis, a spokesman for the office.
"This office will work with VMI and the Department of Justice to make sure the new regulations pass constitutional muster, and we will be happy to hear from any interested parties," Mr. Davis said. "Once developed, those regulations will be presented to the court for its review and approval as part of its oversight prior to dismissing the VMI coeducation case."
In Virginia, the governor not only appoints state-supported colleges and universities' boards, but is also the de facto president of institutions of higher learning and can heavily influence schools' policies.
A spokesman for Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican and chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Mr. Gilmore is not going to second-guess the board's decision.
"We have appointed highly qualified, independent board members," Reed Boatright said. "In this case, Mr. Gilmore is not going to prejudge what decisions VMI's board or its administrators may make."
The policy could become an issue in this year's gubernatorial race.
Republican candidate Mark L. Earley, who stepped down as the state's attorney general after winning the nomination, helped provide guidance to VMI's board to craft the policy, sources said.
But Earley spokesman David Botkins said, "Mark Earley isn't going to micromanage the proposed policies of the VMI board, particularly when this one is still being developed by VMI and the attorney general's office."
Amanda Crumley, a spokeswoman for Mr. Earley's Democratic rival, Mark R. Warner, said VMI should follow other military academies' examples.
"Mark understands and respects that there are standards and duties in the military," Miss Crumley said. "But he would hope that VMI would follow the example set by The Citadel, which allows cadets in these circumstances to be reinstated."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide