Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from the Air Force Academy.
When military cadets go back to school this fall, they’ll have one less worry: they should no longer face expulsion or worse if they unexpectedly become parents.
The Pentagon expects to roll out the new congressionally mandated policy in the next couple of months, allowing cadets and midshipmen at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy to finish their degrees and earn their commissions while maintaining guardianship of their children, a Defense Department spokesman told Military Times on Monday.
Previously, cadets and midshipmen had three choices: abort a pregnancy, sign away parental rights or drop out of the academy altogether, which also meant paying back the cost of their education if they had made it to their junior years and signed their service obligation contracts.
The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act gave the Defense Department a year to implement the new policy, but it’s running months behind the Dec. 27, 2022, deadline.
“Permitting cadets and midshipmen to maintain parental rights while enrolled at a military service academy is a complex issue, requiring legal analysis of several policies and federal statutes,” Army Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. While updating the 2015 DoD instruction that currently governs parenthood while attending a service academy, “some areas were identified that need further analysis and there is potential for more discoveries as the policy matures,” he added.
The finalized policy, which the military departments review three separate times during the development process, is expected in April or May, Dietz said. The policy dates back to the Candidates Afforded Dignity, Equality and Training Act of 2021, or CADET Act, which a bipartisan group of senators first introduced in July of that year.
“Under our current system, cadets who become pregnant must either sign away the rights to their child, get an abortion, pay devastating financial responsibilities, or leave the academy altogether,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement at the time. “This policy is unfair, antiquated, and unacceptable.”
Four Air Force cadets were allowed to stay in school after having children in expectation of the new policy, Stars and Stripes reported this month.
“Understanding the intent of Congress, we worked with [the Air Force Department] and DoD to implement a process in which cadets with natural-born children could remain at USAFA as long as they had an approved family care plan,” Dean Miller, an Air Force Academy spokesman, told Military Times on Monday. “The details of the family care plan include who will care for the child financially and physically while the cadet remains enrolled at the Academy.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.