Defense Secretary Lifts Ban on Women in Combat

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:55 PM EST

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Wednesday that he's lifting the ban on women serving in combat roles.

The Associated Press broke the news:

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Panetta's decision makes women eligible for another 238,000 jobs in the military. The DoD last changed its rules on this in February 2011, when it opened 14,000 more jobs to women. The ban on women serving in combat roles was the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by four female service members who argued that the policy limited their ability to advance in the armed forces and did not reflect the reality that many women are already serving in combat roles in practice, if not in name.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the four women in that case, issued a statement on Wednesday noting that the group is "thrilled" at the announcement. "But," added Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, "we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."