The doctrine is “archaic” and based in part on protecting the government from being sued over actions to win a war, said Greg Jacob, policy director for the New York-based Service Women’s Action Network, which is pushing for exemptions to the doctrine for crime victims.
“What’s happened over the decades is that the federal courts system has interpreted ‘incident to service’ as whatever happens in uniform,” Jacob said Friday. “It’s an example of how misguided the military is with regard to their personnel policies and giving commanders ultimate authority like this.”
Jacob, a former Marine Corps infantry commander, said the Ritchie case shows a need to change the military’s “command-centric” system that allows commanders to override recommendations of lawyers and doctors regarding troops.
Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote a separate, concurring opinion to “highlight how this case reveals the questionable validity of the Feres doctrine,” which she suggests is unfair toward servicewomen.
“Efforts to exclude pregnant women from serving, and even to punish women for becoming pregnant, continue to this day,” she wrote. “The right a pregnant woman has to serve means little if her service requires she put her fetus’s health and well-being at risk.”
The Ritchies now live in Tacoma, Wash., with their three children. January Ritchie is in the Army Reserves, said the couple’s Honolulu attorney, Eric Seitz, who is planning to petition the Supreme Court.
“We were not expecting to win,” he said, but they’re encouraged by the strong language in the opinion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Yee in Honolulu, who represented the government, against the suit referred comment to his superior, who didn’t immediately respond Friday.