Submarine Fetal Monitor

Submarines can kill your baby!

Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but that’s what retired Navy Rear Adm. Hugh Scott wants people to hear.

It has not been two months since the Navy announced its plans to open service on board submarines to women. The Navy probably studied the change from many angles. Apparently it failed to look at it from the fetal position.

“I have serious concerns about the risk to the safety and normal development of an embryo-fetus in the submarine environment,” wrote Scott, reportedly a former director of undersea medicine and radiation health at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. He says the mix of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other hazardous gases are to blame. “Atmosphere controls are different between ships and a submarine’s sealed environment,” he explained to The Washington Times.

It seems the deadline for Congress to act on the Navy’s 30-day notification of its intent to open the submariner specialty has not yet passed. Word of endangered fetuses could adversely impact lawmaker support.

Scott has no official connection to the Navy, but his claims on fetal health are not new.

In 2000 he wrote (at length) to at least one congressman expressing concerns about fetal health and the assignment of women to subs, an important point not mentioned by The Washington Times. Scott’s arguments reamin unchanged a decade later.

The Times may be the only major news outlet with fetal safety concerns. The paper has reported on preferences for all-male crews and highlighted concerns about putting men and women together in tight quarters. Scott, our unofficial fetal monitor, has been quoted about the negative impact women could have on subsurface unit cohesion and combat effectiveness.

Our guess is this talk of fetal health may be an attempt to keep women off sub altogether. It raises a larger and legitimate concern—pregnancy. This has been a challenge for the Navy. The thought of pregnant sailors on a submarine may horrify more than a few. Aborting those fetuses by means of a sub’s atmospheric conditions probably has more than one group calling Capitol Hill.

Navy officials want this transition smoother than those in the past. We know how well the Naval Academy calamity went. Opening surface ships to women two decades ago resulted in a large number of pregnancies. The number of fetuses in Navy Blue reportedly doubled this year to 3,125. There are roughly 54,000 women serving in the Navy. Women do not serve in forward deployed billets past the 20th week of pregnancy.

If the submarine air is that bad, what impact does it have on the fully developed sailor?

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