Women may not have to register for the draft after all, if House Republicans get their way.

Republican members of the House Rules Committee during a late Monday meeting stripped provisions from the annual defense authorization bill that would have required women to register for the Selective Service System.

The controversial provision narrowly passed the House Armed Services Committee last month, and was expected to be a major point of debate on the defense policy bill this week.

But Rules Committee members instead voted to cut off consideration of the issue on the House floor and strike that entire section of the bill. The unusual but not unprecedented procedural move avoids what could be a thorny debate for both parties over women's rights and roles in the military.

Democrats decried it as cowardice by Republican leaders.

"This is a dead-of-night attempt to take an important issue off the table, and I think people will probably see through this tactic," said House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash.

The idea to make women register for the draft was introduced last month by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., as part of an effort to highlight problems with the Pentagon's decision to open all combat roles to women earlier this year. He voted against the idea, but it passed anyway.

Since then, conservative Republicans have scrambled to find ways to remove the provision from the annual military budget policy measure.

Under current law, men ages 18 to 26 are required to register for possible involuntary military service with the Selective Service System. Women have been exempt, and past legal challenges have pointed to combat restrictions placed on their military service as a reason for their exclusion.

Since the Defense Department announced a change in those rules, a collection of military leaders and women's rights advocates have said they support requiring women to now register for the draft.

The conversation is largely a theoretical one, since military leaders have repeatedly insisted they have no desire to return to the draft to fill the ranks. No Americans have been pressed into involuntary military service since the last draft ended in 1973.

And watchdog groups have repeatedly questioned whether the Selective Service System could even adequately conduct a draft if one was needed. Several lawmakers, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have called for a study into whether the system and its $23 million annual budget are still needed.

But the Rules Committee move stripped out that study language from the authorization bill draft as well, leaving the entire issue on the sidelines.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has included provisions making women register for the draft in its initial versions of the authorization bill, meaning the issue will likely come up again before a final compromise bill is settled. But that work will happen behind closed doors, not in public debate before Congress.

Also on Monday, the Rules Committee accepted 61 other amendments for floor debate this week on the authorization bill. Dozens more are expected to be added to the debate list before a final vote on the full measure occurs later this week.

President Obama has threatened to veto the House draft of the authorization bill, over funding issues and restrictions on transferring prisoners out of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.