ACLU Sues To End Ban On Women in Combat

The American Civil Liberties Union and four servicewomen are suing the Department of Defense, demanding an immediate lift on all restrictions on women serving in combat units.

The lawsuit calls the military the “last bastion of discrimination” by the federal government and challenged the government’s rational for the restrictions, arguing modern warfare already puts women in the line of fire. “Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship – serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation,” the suit reads.

The women challenging the Department of Defense policy flew search-and-rescue helicopter missions and patrolled with male Marines in what were categorized as non-combat counter-terrorism roles. Two of the four women were even wounded while serving in those roles but found their work unrecognized when it came to promotions. “In America today it’s hard to conceive that there are still things you are not allowed to do, just because you are a woman,” Captain Zoe Bedell, a Marine Corps reserves officer who served two tours in Afghanistan, told a news conference.

Bedell described how her fellow female marines, charged with engaging the local community in support of male infantry units, found themselves fighting, too. “They patrolled every day with the infantry, and sometimes twice a day. They lived every day on the same combat outposts in remote corners of Afghanistan. They wore the same gear and they carried the same rifles, and when the unit was attacked, my marines fought back,” she said at the conference.

The Department of Defense has slowly been dropping gender-based restrictions, and we should emphasize slowly. In 1994 women were finally allowed to serve in combat units as medics, intelligence officers and related jobs at the brigade level. In February of this year women were allowed to perform those same jobs in a battalion and the Pentagon dropped restrictions on women serving in units that were required to be based with combat units.

But women still can’t serve as infantry or in smaller units engaged in combat, which accounts for more than 238,000 positions in the military according to the ACLU. According to Reuters, when asked about the lawsuit at a briefing, a Pentagon spokesman said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta remained “very committed to examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military and he’s done so.”

The ACLU and law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson filed the request for an injunction on the policy in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The lawsuit follows a similar suit filed in May by two Army reservists in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Much like the lawsuits challenging Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in some ways these are necessary formalities to finish off the process of equalizing the ranks of our military once and for all. Common sense tells us these distinctions are nonsense and the evidence bears that out. It’s time our institutions caught up, especially the single largest federal employer.


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Photo from U.S. Army via flickr.


Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider5 years ago

Of course they need to officially lift the restrictions, we are running out of willing able bodied and mentally fit men for combat.

Ernest Roth
Ernest R5 years ago

Under the stress of combat, women’s fellow soldiers might hopefully be too busy to initiate rape of their female comrades.

Sallyjo A.
sally A5 years ago

women all ready participate in combat unofficially. War doesn't discriminate, an enemy isn't going to go "crap, it's a woman! hold your fire until she goes somewhere else!" They are going to shoot at her. Hell, civilians get shot at.

If they are allowed to officially be in combat then they'll be able to get treatment for combat related injuries.

steve l.
Past Member 5 years ago

You demanded equal rights and now you're going to have to die on the front lines just as men have had to do for centuries. Enjoy your equality.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


Christopher M.
Christopher M.5 years ago

A draft bill for men and women 18-42 did not pass. Makes me glad I am 43 in April.

char l.
Past Member 5 years ago

Betsy is right. When they start adding up the points for promotions, awards count. And combat/campaign awards are worth a lot of promotion points. Women are getting shot at, killed, maimed just like men. But since it isn't supposed to happen, they somehow become invisible, and do not get credit for their courage and honor. Look at some of the flak Tammy Duckworth caught during her run for Congress! The woman is a hero.

Fred H.
Fred H5 years ago

"Last bastion of discrimination by the federal government"? Let me know when 18-year old women have to register their bodies with the government the way men do.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.5 years ago

I remember this tidbit from Our World/ABC, about women in combat in Vietnam

"For heroism at Da Nang, Lt. Jane Lombardi, an Air Force nurse, became the first woman to receive combat decorations in Vietnam."

Just because a woman was a nurse, not armed, doesn't mean they didn't risk their own lives to save others.

ali a.
ali a5 years ago