I enjoyed reading your recent opinion column in the Los Angeles Times about the Navy’s recently reversed a ban on women serving aboard submarines. You ask some important questions: does exposure to a submarine’s nuclear core pose a risk to a pregnant sailor’s unborn child? Or even to a submariner’s as-yet-unfertilized egg?
Certainly, as a feminist, I’d be appalled if a potentially major health concern for women on submarines were swept under the rug and ignored. But I’m also appalled at the questions you want answered before women be allowed to serve on submarines:
How much radiation would women be allowed to absorb before removing them from the nuclear environment?
How many back-up nuclear watch standers will need to be available to replace women who have received excessive radiation, and how will this action affect the mission in enemy territory?
What screening will be initiated on the day of departure to guarantee that the submarine is not heading out with a pregnant sailor aboard?
What plans need to be established to remove a female sailor from the submarine, should she become pregnant during the deployment?
What are the maximum levels of accumulated radiation acceptable to the ovaries of non-pregnant sailors who might be planning a family in the future, and at what point would a woman need to be removed if those levels were exceeded?
Surely, Dr. Dunham, in your long years of practice, you have noticed that not all women are going to become pregnant in the future. Some women have already had all the children they will bear. Others choose never to have babies. Still others are unable to conceive even if they want to. Some women have taken the permanent, surgical route to birth control. There are women who do not even have ovaries.
In other words, in the very best light, you are asking the wrong questions because your questions assume that any woman might become pregnant at any point.
The issue isn’t women being on-board submarines; it’s taking the proper health precautions for all the staff on a submarine. I’m glad you’re concerned about women’s health, but I’d like to see you advocating more strongly for healthy work environments and an educational apparatus that would let women make informed decisions about whether or not to serve on a submarine.
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