Group Cites Dangers of Submarine Air to Pregnant Women

The Pentagon's push to put women on subs is being challenged as a threat to pregnant sailors.


By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Earlier this month, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his support for allowing women on submarines, and now he's facing a challenge from a group eager to keep women off the boats that stay some six months under the ocean's surface. The Center for Military Readiness says that there is a bigger issue at stake: Bad air on subs—not the proximity to nuclear materials—could cause birth defects for women sailors' children. "The problem is not nuclear power, it is the air, which is constantly recycled in the undersea environment. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels in the air are safe for adults but a high-risk cause of birth defects in unborn children—particularly in the early weeks of gestation when a woman may not even know she is pregnant," CMR's Elaine Donnelly said in a statement today. "By thoughtlessly pushing for co-ed submarines, apparently to please military and civilian feminists, Admiral Mullen has demonstrated an appalling unawareness of the health hazards involved, and a callous disregard for quality-of-life hardships that are difficult enough for sailors in the Silent Service."

Currently, the Navy is only studying the impact of putting women on the submarines. But Donnelly, whose group works on issues involving women in the military, argues that Mullen's recent comments show that the Pentagon hasn't fully examined the health impact. She warned that should a female sailor on a sub suffer a life-threatening problem with her pregnancy, the sub would have to surface to transfer the woman to a hospital and thus reveal its secret location. "Britain, Canada, and the American Navy do not put women on submarines primarily because of these irresolvable health risks and operational complications," she said. "In addition, habitability standards on subs are well below minimum standards on surface ships. Crowd them even more, in order to provide separate quarters for female officers and enlisted sailors, and morale as well as discipline would suffer."

CMR has established a webpage to highlight its concerns about birth defects.

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