200 women troops sent home for being pregnant: MoD won't impose war zone pregnancy tests due to 'privacy' fears
Mothers-to-be are banned from serving on the front line
99 were evacuated from Afghanistan and 102 from Iraq under the rules
Commanders sent them home as soon as their condition was known
Most were conceived before, but a small number became pregnant on tour
MoD disapproves of sexual relations between troops
Published: 23:09, 16 February 2014
More than 200 servicewomen have been sent home from war zones after discovering they were pregnant.
An astonishing 99 were evacuated from Afghanistan and 102 from Iraq under rules that ban mothers-to-be from serving on the front line.
Commanders ordered them to return to Britain – sometimes on flights reserved for injured troops – as soon as their condition became known. Mother: Lance Bombardier Lynette Pearce, 28, was the first British Army soldier to give birth on the front line
Incredibly, female soldiers are not forced to take a pregnancy test before deploying because top brass believe it would be an invasion of privacy.
But the Ministry of Defence has faced calls to introduce compulsory tests because it is ‘unacceptable’ that other service personnel are placed at risk of attack while evacuating pregnant women from the front line.
Pregnancy tests can be bought from High Street chemists for less than £10 and can give a result as soon as seven days after conception.
Official MoD figures showed 201 pregnant servicewomen have been evacuated from the conflict in Afghanistan since 2006 and from the war in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. The MoD said it was fewer than one per cent of female soldiers deployed on operations.
Most of the babies would have been conceived before the mother left the UK but a small number of women may have become pregnant on a tour of duty. The Armed Forces do not have a set-in-stone ‘no-touching’ rule for troops in the war zone.
But all who serve there are warned that the MoD disapproves of sexual relations between troops and that any inappropriate behaviour would breach guidelines. Those caught having sex usually face a rebuke from their commanding officer or more serious disciplinary action, depending on their rank and position.
A defence source said: ‘It wouldn’t be the hugest surprise that people get together at base to alleviate boredom and fear. But the vast majority of troops know it is utterly unprofessional and the consequences serious.
‘It’s more likely people know they are going to be deployed for a long time so they have sex with their partner before they go and don’t realise they’re pregnant until they get there.’
In 2011, Private Kayla Donnelly, then 21, from Penrith in Cumbria, served in Helmand unaware she was seven months pregnant. She conceived before going to Afghanistan as a machine-gunner and thought her weight gain was due to high-calorie Army rations. It was only when she collapsed in Tenerife after her tour that she realised she was pregnant.
Pre-deployment guidelines issued to every soldier make clear female troops should not deploy if they are pregnant but at no time are women given a pregnancy test by the MoD.
Female soldiers are asked whether they are – or suspect they are – pregnant. This is routine so medical staff can ensure the inoculation does not damage an unborn baby.
At the height of the fighting in Afghanistan, between 500 and 600 women were posted at any one time. About 10,000 have served in Helmand. Servicewomen are barred from infantry battalions, tank regiments, the Royal Marine Commandos and Special Forces. But they go on patrol with combat units and risk firefights while in supporting roles such as medics.
Tory MP Bob Stewart, a former commander of British troops in Bosnia, said he was against compulsory pregnancy tests. He said: ‘I think you have to be very careful about suddenly ordering people to take intrusive tests. Some get pregnant when they are actually out on operations in theatre so pre-deployment tests would not work with them.’
But Major General Julian Thompson, the ex-commanding officer of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said: ‘It would need to be put across sensitively, but this would ensure that they are 100 per cent fit for operations when they deploy.’ An MoD spokesman said: ‘Pregnant servicewomen are returned home to protect the health and safety of the mother and unborn child, not as a punishment.’