Virginia Military Institute Pregnancy Policy Discriminates Against Women, ACLU Warns

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
December 7, 2001 12:00 am

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RICHMOND, VA–In a letter sent today to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia advised against adoption of a policy requiring pregnant women, or men who cause a pregnancy, to leave the school.

ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis warned that litigation or loss of federal funds would likely follow the adoption of the policy. The ACLU sent a similar letter to VMI this summer, when the proposed policy first surfaced. The Board of Visitors did not act on the policy at that time.

The ACLU maintains the policy discriminates against women, interferes with reproductive freedom, and violates pregnancy regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

“”For anyone who has wondered why VMI is still under court review five years after the Supreme Court forced them to admit women, this policy answers the question,”” said Willis. “”While the real military academies and even the Citadel fully recognize the right of female students to become pregnant and have children, VMI is still looking for ways to suppress women’s rights.””

“”This is not a policy that treats men and women equally, despite words to that effect,” added Willis. “”A female cadet could not possibly hide a pregnancy more than a few months. A man who causes a pregnancy, on the other hand, may never be detected. It is hard to believe the people who thought up this rule were not aware of this gross discrepancy.””

“”The policy also threatens reproductive freedom,” said Willis. “”The practical consequence of VMI’s policy is to force a woman to choose between an abortion or leaving school.”

A copy of the letter sent to VMI follows.

December 7, 2001

Board of Visitors
Virginia Military Institute
201 Smith Hall
Lexington, Virginia 24450

RE: Proposed Policy on Expulsion of Pregnant Women

Dear Members of the Board of Visitors:

It is my understanding that at your meeting this Saturday, you will again address a proposed policy requiring students who are pregnant or who cause a pregnancy to leave VMI or face expulsion. I would like to remind you that such a policy is an infringement on the Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and right to privacy.

Specifically, the policy would appear to directly violate the federal regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In part, those regulations read:

A recipient [of federal funds] shall not…exclude any student from its education program or activity…on the basis of such student’s pregnancy . . . unless the student requests voluntarily to participate in a separate program or activity of the recipient.

A recipient shall treat pregnancy . . . in the same manner and under the same policies as any other temporary disability with respect to any medical or hospital benefit or service which such recipient administers, operates, offers or participates in with respect to students admitted to the recipient’s program or activity.

In the case of a recipient which does not maintain a leave policy for its students, or in the case of a student who does not otherwise qualify for leave under such a policy, a recipient shall treat pregnancy . . . as a justification for a leave of absence for so long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary by the student’s physician, at the conclusion of which the student shall be reinstated to the status which she held when the leave began.

(Although Title IX does not apply to any institution whose primary purpose is the training of individuals for the military services, VMI does not, according to court precedent, fall under that exception. In United States v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 766 F.Supp. 1407, 1427 (W.D. Va. 1991), VMI stipulated that the “role of VMI is not primarily to develop career military men for the U.S. armed services.”)

Should VMI adopt the proposed policy on pregnancy, the likely consequences are litigation or the withdrawal of federal funds to VMI. I urge you to consider these potential consequences as you make your policy decision on Saturday.


Kent Willis
Executive Director

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