The decision to become a parent is deeply personal, and no school or job should be able to interfere with that choice. Yet for cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, that is exactly what their school does.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy (and all other U.S. military service academies) imposes a blanket ban against cadets becoming parents, without exception. The ban applies to all cadets who become parents or pregnant, starting at fourteen weeks of pregnancy. A cadet who becomes a parent must leave the Academy, either by resigning or being disenrolled. This arcane ban has forced cadets to hide their personal lives and identities from their friends and families, cut contact with their children and co-parents, involuntarily surrender their parental rights, and, in some cases, terminate their pregnancies to avoid disenrollment. It has also forced cadets to drop out of the Academy and abandon their career aspirations to give birth to and take care of their children.
The Academy’s ban on parents is rooted in longstanding stigma and bias against people who have family caregiving responsibilities, especially women with children. The Academy prohibited women from enrolling until 1976. Following its decision to allow women to enroll, the Academy adopted its first policies prohibiting parents from serving as cadets. This unconstitutional ban is also arbitrary, because the Coast Guard allows officers and enlisted personnel to become parents -- parenthood is only banned for cadets at the Academy.
Two months before he was set to graduate from the academy, then-U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet Isaak Olson told the Academy that his fiancée had recently given birth to their first child. Even though Olson completed all his degree requirements and took steps to terminate his parental rights, the academy expelled Olson, denied his commission and withheld his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, solely because he became a parent.
On December 8, 2021, Olson, represented by the ACLU of Connecticut, ACLU Women's Rights Project, and Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's ban on parenthood under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.
In 2022, the case reached a settlement.
Forcing cadets to choose between parenthood and their degrees is morally wrong and unconstitutional. These bans are wrong for every military service academy, and the academies should strike them from their regulations now.