Pentagon & Congress

Panel to recommend making women register for the draft

A panel charged with evaluating the Selective Service System will recommend requiring women to register future military drafts, according to congressional sources briefed on the upcoming report.

The bipartisan National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — which spent the last two years holding information sessions on the issue — is set to release its findings on Wednesday.

They will include for the first time requiring women between the ages of 18 and 25 to register for potential conscription in the event of a prolonged war, as all young men are currently required to do.

The idea has gained traction among some women’s rights groups and complaints from some conservative activists in recent years. In the past, courts have ruled against adding women to the draft because certain combat posts were closed to them, but Pentagon officials in recent years have lifted nearly all those restrictions.

In a statement on Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, praised the commission’s work and promised to closely consider the findings.

“Opening Selective Service to women is just one of their recommendations,” he said. “I look forward to examining the data and arguments the commission has compiled more closely.

“In the meantime, it is important that my colleagues have an opportunity to hear from the Commission directly. I believe that public hearings in the Armed Services Committee and other relevant committees are essential.”

When those public hearings might be held is unclear. Currently, nearly all congressional hearings have been postponed indefinitely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump earlier this month recommended keeping any public gatherings to fewer than 10 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness.

Legislative proposals have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain.

Congress will have to adopt new legislation in order to make the change of adding women to the draft. Or they could opt to get rid of the Selective Service System altogether.

Recent legislative proposals regarding registration of women have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain, and several studies have questioned how effective it would be if officials needed it to replenish troop levels.

That hasn’t happened in more than 40 years, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they prefer the current all-volunteer force to the idea of a mostly conscripted military.

Men between the ages of 18 and 25 who don’t register for the draft face possible fines and jail time, and may be ineligible for benefits like federal student loans. Advocates for adding women to the registration system have argued in the past that levying those penalties only on men is unfair.

The report will be posted online at the commission’s web site on Wednesday.

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