Women who have applied to be D.C. police officers during the past two years have been given pregnancy tests without their knowledge, District police officials have confirmed.

The secret pregnancy tests were conducted on urine samples that the women were required to submit for drug screening to the Police and Fire Clinic in Southwest Washington. If the samples showed no traces of drugs, they were marked with a red F -- for female -- and tested for pregnancy. The women were aware of the drug screening test requirement to become police recruits, but were not told of the pregnancy test.

Police officials could not say how many women had received the pregnancy test since November 1985, but said that during the past two years, 126 women have joined the 3,880-member force, which now counts about 525 women officers in its ranks. It was also unclear whether any women had been denied a position as a police recruit because of a positive test result. District law prohibits discriminating against women because they are pregnant.

Clinic officials said that they halted the secret pregnancy tests Tuesday after a female employe of the clinic complained that they were an invasion of privacy and demanded to see the policy in writing.

"It's been a policy to do the testing, but they {the female applicants} should have been informed," said Lt. Michael Irish, administrative lieutenant for the clinic, 2 D.C. Village La. SW. "They were not informed; the policy was never written down, therefore we've suspended the program until the policy can be clearly defined in writing."

But Capt. William White III, a police spokesman, disputed that version of events, saying that the process of testing applicants for pregnancy without their knowledge was "under {a} review that will determine whether it's appropriate -- the process of them being informed as well as the test itself."

Neither White nor Irish could explain why the pregnancy tests were conducted in secret. Form letters sent to police department applicants inform them of the drug screening tests and other qualifications necessary for becoming a police officer, but do not mention the pregnancy tests.

Last week, one recruit learned that she was pregnant after submitting her urine to be tested for drugs, police sources said. The astonished woman was informed by police officials that she was pregnant and would have to reapply after her pregnancy.

The secret pregnancy tests immediately raised constitutional questions concerning sexual discrimination and an individual's right to privacy, and further deepened the controversy already surrounding the integrity of the department's drug screening program.

"This is one of the things that is a danger of the current drug testing craze because an employer who says he's going to test for drug use can also find out other things about a person, such as whether that person is pregnant, whether the person has a sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis or AIDS and whether the person is taking medication under a psychiatrist's care, and all those things would be very invasive of a person's privacy," said Arthur Spitzer, director of the national capital area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police officials said that they began the pregnancy tests in November 1985 as a precaution against injury to women or fetuses that they "This is one of the things that is a danger of the current drug testing craze because an employer who says he's going to test for drug use can also find out other things about a person . . . . "

-- Arthur Spitzer

thought could be caused by the rigors of training at the police academy. They said that if a police officer applicant is determined to be pregnant, they defer consideration of her application until after the birth of the baby, at which time she can reapply.

"We don't discriminate against people who are pregnant -- that would be against the Human Rights Act of the District," said Capt. Max P.T. Sachs, the department's personnel officer.

"However, we will defer you until the completion of your pregnancy. Wouldn't you want to know whether you're pregnant before you become a police officer?"

Under police department rules, when officers on the force learn they are pregnant they must notify their superiors. Then the woman's doctor and a clinic doctor decide what kind of duty assignment is best for the officer.

Since mid-August, the drug screening program has been under investigation by an in-house panel of police officials. The investigation was started after two workers at the clinic took allegations of serious flaws in the testing procedures to Mayor Marion Barry and U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova. A report on the panel's findings is expected to be completed this month.

The clinic whistle-blowers alleged "gross misconduct and possible criminal violations" by police officials, including bribery, tampering with physical evidence and violations of standards of conduct. In one case, they alleged, police officials tampered with the positive drug test result of an official up for promotion.

Since the drug testing program began in 1982, it has emerged as a critical component of the police department's personnel procedures. The urine of police officers now is tested when they are new recruits, when they are up for promotion, when they are accused of substance abuse and during routine annual physicals given to officers 35 and older. Officers are subject to termination after one positive drug test. During the last five years, at least 40 officers have been fired because their urine allegedly was tainted by drugs.