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New Lawsuit Filed Challenging Combat Exclusion Policy

Date: June 6 2012

New York, NY – In a recent lawsuit filed May 23 by Washington, DC firm Covington & Burling, LLP, two U.S. Army Reservists (Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin and Col. Ellen Haring) claim the current ban on specific combat assignments for women in the military violate their constitutional rights. This week, the New York Times ran an op ed outlining the impact of the combat exclusion policy on military leadership and career advancement for women.

“The current implementation of the combat exclusion policy ensures that women remain second class citizens in the military, unable to rise in the ranks and assume vital leadership roles,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women’s Action Network and former Marine Corps captain. “While the DOD announced the opening of more positions to women this past February, women are still barred from direct combat, infantry and special operations. These are the posts that allow women to move up the ranks and take on positions of greater leaderships and authority. A full removal of the Combat Exclusion Policy is necessary if the military is indeed interested in maintaining a workforce compliant with equality opportunity.”
Women make up approximately 15 percent of the Armed Forces, and many occupy dangerous roles on the frontlines in the theater of modern warfare. Over 280,000 women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan - 144 were killed in action, and nearly 900 servicewomen have been wounded.  Despite those numbers, female members are prohibited from formally serving directly in combat.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently introduced legislation that would require a report on changing current policy barring qualified women from combat roles. SASC included this bill as an amendment in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which goes next to the full Senate for a vote. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced a House version of this legislation, the Gender Equality in Combat Act.

SWAN sees the new lawsuit as an urgent piece in the push for combat exclusion policy repeal. “We applaud the courage and initiative of these plaintiffs in asserting their rights to enjoy the same job opportunities as their male peers,” said Ms. Bhagwati.  “Military women have long demonstrated their capacity to serve and excel in combat positions, and their contributions should no longer go unrecognized due to an outmoded legal fiction--it's time the law caught up with the realities of modern warfare.”

SWAN staff is available for comment and appearance.

SWAN is a national human rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN’s vision is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without threat of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or assault. SWAN also seeks to reform veterans' services on a national scale to guarantee equal access to quality health care, benefits and resources for women veterans and their families. You can follow Service Women’s Action Network on Twitter at, or on Facebook at

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