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Military service academies must now accommodate cadets with kids

Before the reforms, students could be kicked out of service academies for giving birth

Military service academies are implementing new regulations allowing cadets to continue their education if they give birth or father children while enrolled.

The Department of Defense issued new formal instructions to its military schools to “maintain parental rights of cadets and midshipmen who become biological parents while attending the Service academies,” according to the regulation document.

The shift has been informed by a bipartisan bill known as the Candidates Afforded Dignity, Equality and Training Act, which instructed the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation to protect parents’ rights “consistent with individual and academic responsibilities,” according to Congress.gov. Elements of the CADET Act were later incorporated into The National Defense Authorization Act of December 2021, which required military parental rights reforms.

Before the CADET Act, military academy students who gave birth had to relinquish their rights to their child, often by signing over their rights to the other parent.

Going forward, military academies will allow cadets and midshipmen who procreate to remain enrolled as long as they have a Family Care Plan in place, according to the DoD instructions.

Air Force Academy Chief of Media Operations Dean Miller told The College Fix in an email Jan. 24 that at the Air Force, “medical personnel and all 40 Air Officers Commanding (the first line supervisor for the cadets) have received extensive guidance on the current policy.”

“In addition, the Academy has subject matter experts on the policy for commanders and cadets to consult with at any time,” he said.

However, Miller said fewer than 10 Air Force cadets “have submitted family care plans for approval based on having a child or being responsible for a child” since the CADET Act passed in December 2021.

He wrote that the Air Force’s policy change accommodating parents predated the DoD’s November 2023 orders.

“The United States Air Force Academy established procedures following the intent of Congress with the passing of The Cadet Act in December, 2021,” he wrote. “Academy policy allowed cadet parents to remain at the Academy as long as they had an approved Family Care Plan to ensure the child would be appropriately cared for while the cadet remained in training at USAFA.”

U.S. Naval Academy Director of Media Relations Elizabeth Wrightson told The College Fix on Jan. 18 that “USNA leadership has and will continue to engage midshipmen on the change in DoD policy.”

However, “instances of midshipmen gaining a dependent while attending USNA are rare,” according to Wrightson.

The Fix contacted the United States Military Academy West Point and the United States Coast Guard Academy by phone on Jan. 24 to ask how each school has implemented the Department of Defense’s new instructions regarding student parents and how cadets have been educated on their new rights. Both West Point and the Coast Guard Academy directed The Fix to email their media relations offices, which have not responded with comments. The Fix had previously emailed the services academies for comment in the past several weeks.

Prior the new policy, cadets “who admitted to either procreating or giving birth to children were in violation of their service academy’s rules, could have been kicked out, and might have been on the hook to pay back the cost of their education,” Military.com reported in November 2023.

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Evangeline Faussie, public relations officer for the Claire Boothe Luce Center for Conservative Women, praised the CADET Act in an email to The Fix.

“The enactment of the CADET Act is a mutually beneficial outcome for women and the U.S. military,” she said. “Pregnant female cadets will no longer experience pressure to undergo abortion or relinquish their parental rights in order to continue their education, and the Department of Defense is set to achieve significant savings—both in terms of finances and time—by enabling these women to continue their tenure in military academies.”

“The CADET Act is a victory for promoting a culture of life within the framework of our government,” Faussie wrote.

In 2021, Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the CADET Act, requiring the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation “to prescribe regulations ensuring that the parental guardianship rights of cadets and midshipmen attending military service academies are protected consistent with individual and academic responsibilities.”

The CADET Act passed the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Armed Services, according to Congress.gov.

There, it became the basis for a Pentagon rewrite of policy, which was inserted into the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, The Hill reported on March 27, 2022.

Senator Cruz posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Nov. 21, 2023 that he is “grateful the DoD has implemented my CADET Act.”

“For years, the policy at our Service Academies forced women who got pregnant to: 1. Have an abortion, 2. Surrender parental rights, or 3. Withdraw from the Service Academy and pay for the time they’d spent there.”

“This policy was completely unacceptable,” Cruz wrote. “My CADET Act abolished it to make sure the brave men and women who choose to serve our country don’t have to choose between their child and that service.”

The Act was supported by former military cadet forced to legally relinquish her parental rights, The Fix reported in October 2021. Following graduation, Hemphill had to adopt her own child.

She told The Fix via email at the time that “Under the CADET Act, military academies would treat pregnancies in line with the rest of the military and would require cadets/midshipmen to simply have a Family Care Plan in place.”

“Importantly, the CADET Act does all this without changing cadet and midshipmen benefits or responsibilities, and it also does not change current admission requirements for military academies,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill told The Fix that while no clear data is available on women who become pregnant at the military academies, she believes that “some women resign without citing the reason of pregnancy, many fathers simply hide their paternity, and most have an abortion.”

“Our estimate is that the overwhelming majority of servicewomen who choose to terminate a pregnancy would do so off-base and without notifying their military chain of command… so there would be no countable statistics there.” she said.

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article identified Dean Miller as Air Force Chief of Media Operations. He is the Chief of Media Operations of the Air Force Academy. 

IMAGE: Keith Brown/Public Domain

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