Left divided over women registering for the draft


The fight over women registering for the military draft is splitting Democrats.

Some see the issue as one of basic gender equality, arguing women should face the same requirements as men. Others argue that no one should be required to register for the draft, and that including women would be a step in the wrong direction.

{mosads}“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman or a houseplant—we need to abolish the Selective Service,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in a statement to The Hill. “Allowing women to be included in the Selective Service would just double the number of people punished unnecessarily by the government over inclusion in a mean-spirited and outdated practice.”

“My position is the position on the draft in general,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said. “I’m just against the draft.”

Liberal activists have also taken up the cause. A Care2 petition with nearly 14,000 signatures urges lawmakers to end the draft instead of requiring women to participate.

“While this is unfair and sexist — women should be allowed to serve in combat roles just as men are — it is immoral to force people to go to war, no matter their sex,” Julie Mastrine, the petition’s author and Care2’s activism marketing and social media manager, says in the petition document.  

But Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said this week that registering women is a matter of equality. 

“Women ought to be treated equally,” he told reporters. “If you’re going to have Selective Service registration continue, and you’re going to have women available to serve in the armed forces in either front-line capacity or support capacity — or both, which I think is now the case legally — then I think it makes sense to have eligible individuals, male or female, register as long as you have registration.”

Hoyer also argued against abolishing the Selective Service altogether.

“Internationally, we are in a very unstable context,” he said. “Therefore, it may well make sense to continue to have a pool available, a large pool available, in the event that we need to, in very rapid order, ramp up the numbers of folks in the armed forces.”

The issue has also divided Republicans, creating a tense legislative debate in Congress. 

Both the House and Senate versions of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would require women to register for the draft. But three amendments have been put forward in the House to strike that language. The bill is expected to come to the floor next week. 

If Congress required women to enroll in the Selective Service, it would represent a historic change. The U.S. has come close to drafting women only once before, when there was a shortage of nurses during World War II.

The Defense Department says it no longer wants the draft, having not used it since the Vietnam War. Pentagon leaders including Defense Secretary Ash Carter have said repeatedly that they intend to keep the force all-volunteer.

But most men ages 18 through 25 still have to register with the Selective Service System or face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college. 

In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that women could be excluded from registering since combats jobs were closed to them. 

That point is now moot, since Carter opened all combat jobs to women late last year. 

Requiring women to register for the draft was included in the House version of the NDAA almost on a whim.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) proposed the amendment during the House Armed Services Committee’s 16-hour markup of the bill to force members to grapple with the consequences of opening combat jobs to women, which he opposes.

He voted against his own amendment, but six Republicans joined with all but one of the committee’s Democrats to approve it 32-30.

Now, as the bill comes to the floor, Hunter said he plans to support an amendment from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) that would strike the language. 

“I don’t want women to serve in the infantry or special operations, and I don’t want my daughters to have to sign up for Selective Service when they turn 18,” Hunter said.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, would strike Hunter’s language and replace it with what was originally in the bill, a requirement for the Pentagon to do a comprehensive study of the Selective Service.

“The chairman feels like this is a very momentous choice for the Congress, and Congress need to fully understand all of implications for military readiness that changing Selective Service involves,” a committee staffer said this week.

The third amendment, offered by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), would strike the language on women and repeal the Selective Service.

Paying almost $25 million annually to keep up the draft system is a waste, Ribble said. Should a draft be needed in the future, he said, history has shown the system can be quickly reestablished. 

But even if the language on women registering is removed from the House bill, it still exists in the Senate measure. Should senators choose to keep it, it could set up a fight when the two chambers meet to reconcile their versions of the bill. 

In addition to requiring women to register, the Senate version of the NDAA would establish an independent National Commission on Military, National and Public Service to review the future of Selective Service. 

“As women serve in more roles across the armed forces, I support the recommendation of the Army chief of staff and the commandant of the Marine Corps that women should register for Selective Service,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement to The Hill. “It is the logical conclusion of the decision to open combat positions to women.”

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said he doesn’t foresee changes to the draft ultimately happening with the NDAA.

He was the lone Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee to vote against Hunter’s amendment, which he said he did because such a big change required more study than the late-night markup allowed.

“It’s not the appropriate time to take up such a fundamental issue,” Garamendi said. “It needs to be fully understood and fully debated as to what are the implications of this.”

Tags John Garamendi John McCain Reid Ribble

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