Sgt. 1st Class Shereka Danzy of the New Jersey Army National Guard. Congress is considering mandating that women register for the draft. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Woolley.
For generations, American boys nearing their 18th birthday have known they would soon have to register for the Selective Service System, commonly called the military draft.
Soon, girls may join them — but only if a current proposal makes it through several more rounds of negotiations in Congress.
Although the draft has been defunct since 1973, and there are no signs on the horizon that it will be reactivated, Congress is weighing requiring women to register for the draft under the National Defense Authorization Act for 2022.
Unsurprisingly, the topic has strong opinions on both sides.
Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a former Air Force officer, told Roll Call that she and Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida partnered on an amendment to add women to the draft because they both thought the current draft was an “outdated way of thinking.”
“Equity is important,” Houlahan said, “and women have constantly had to fight for a level playing field — and this change is a step in the right direction.”
However, Missouri’s Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has staked out a public position of opposition to the move. “It is wrong to force our daughters, mothers, wives, and sisters to fight our wars,” Hawley said. Women, he said, “have played a vital role in defending America at every point in our nation’s history. But volunteering for military service is not the same as being forced into it, and no woman should be compelled to do so.”
The House of Representatives passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act last month, which included Houlahan’s and Waltz’s amendment that would make women eligible to be drafted. The Senate Armed Services Committee also approved a version of the NDAA in July that includes language requiring all Americans to register for Selective Service. The amendment replacing the word “male” with “person” in the statute was sponsored by committee Chairman Jack Reed, Democratic senator of Rhode Island, who did not respond to Coffee or Die Magazine’s request for comment.
But Hawley has since introduced a proposed amendment that would remove the modified language in the Senate bill, leaving it as “male.” His amendment currently has five co-sponsors: Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Roger Wicker, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Sen. Roger Marshall.
“Our military has welcomed women for decades and is stronger for it,” said Cotton, an Army veteran. “But America’s daughters should never be drafted against their will.”
But the debate on the issue is functionally stalled, as the full Senate has not yet taken up the bill. Members from both houses and both sides of the aisle are growing increasingly irked by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s delay in bringing the Senate version to the floor for debate and passage, as the amount of time the Senate has left in session for the year dwindles down to weeks.
Including women in the draft nearly made it into the 2017 NDAA, but the relevant language was changed during last-minute negotiations to instead establish the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to study the issue. That panel issued a report in March 2020 titled “Inspired To Serve,” recommending expanding mandatory registration to women. The report is no longer hosted on government servers, but the panel’s chairman, former Rep. Joe Heck, spoke in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the report this past March.
“It is the equal obligation of all Americans to defend the nation if called to do so,” Heck told the committee. “Registering women for Selective Service and, if necessary, including women in a draft acknowledges the value women bring to the U.S. armed forces and the talents, skills and abilities women would offer in defending the nation in a national emergency.”
In June, the Supreme Court declined to take a case, brought by the National Coalition for Men, that alleged the all-male draft was unconstitutional and discriminatory. “The Court’s longstanding deference to Congress on matters of national defense and military affairs cautions against granting review while Congress actively weighs the issue,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in agreement with the court’s decision.
In other words, the decision is up to Congress.
Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!
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