Congress is debating — yet again — the idea of including women in a national military draft more than a decade after the end of rules that kept them from combat roles.

The idea of adding women to the draft, should one ever be enacted, has bounced around the halls of Congress many times with support from both political parties but never enough votes to become law. It’s unclear if this year’s attempt will gain enough support to pass. 

This year’s attempt is in the fiscal year 2025 national defense policy bill that passed out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Language in that bill would amend the Military Selective Service Act to require women to register for Selective Service. The House version of the bill, which also passed last week, would not add women to the draft but does include a measure to make registration for the Selective Service automatic for men ages 18 to 25 automatic. Both chambers of Congress will finalize a joint version of the defense bill in conference before they can vote it into law.

The Selective Service would carry out a military draft if Congress or the President decides to implement one. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) who led efforts to remove similar language from defense bills in previous years, called the measure “insane” and told Fox News it was part of an ongoing “social experiment” in the military led by Democrats.

“There shouldn’t be women in the draft. They shouldn’t be forced to serve if they don’t want to,” he said on the conservative television news network.

Kate Kuzminski, deputy director of the Center for New American Security’s program on Military, Veterans & Society said various members of Congress has attempted to add women to the military draft since soon after Congress lifted rules in 2013 that kept women out of combat roles. In 2016, two Republicans introduced the “Draft America’s Daughters” bill, which Kuzminski said was “pretty provocative.” 

“They opposed the lifting of combat restrictions on women and then the logic followed that if women could serve in combat positions, then they would have to enter the draft,” Kuzminski said. “It was like a back door way of opposing women in combat positions to raise awareness around the fact that they could then be drafted.”

In 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the National Coalition For Men, arguing that the all-male draft is discriminatory against men. According to the ACLU, the Fifth Circuit Court reversed its ruling based on the 1981 Supreme Court case, Rostker v. Goldberg, which upheld a men-only registration on the grounds that women were prohibited from serving in combat roles. The ban on women in combat has since been lifted which the ACLU cited as a reason to revisit the law. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, kicking the issue back to Congress.

In May, the men’s coalition filed a similar complaint in the Central District of California again arguing constitutional violations but now citing historic ‘firsts’ by women including well over 100 graduates of Army Ranger School since 2015 and the first female Marine to lead an infantry platoon in 2018.

“Limiting registration to men is based upon antiquated stereotypes of the capacity of women to serve and fully participate in military and civic life; and equally archaic and compartmentalized views that men lack the ability to remain at home as caretakers. The ban assumes women are unsuitable for military service notwithstanding their own individual abilities and predispositions. The limitation on registration to male citizens sanctifies these biases and encapsulates them in federal law,” the coalition said in a statement.

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After a 2022 attempt by Congress to include women in the SS registration, the Center for Military Readiness weighed in on the issue. The center cited a law professor’s analysis which found that requiring women register for the service in the name of “equity” could create an “administrative burden” to find women who qualify for combat positions rather than fast-tracking qualified men who could be trained and mobilized more quickly. 

“The Selective Service system exists as a low-cost insurance policy that backs up the All-Volunteer Force (AVF),” the center said in a statement. “Its purpose is not to advance ‘equity’ between the sexes.  The purpose of Selective Service centers on national security, not ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s rights.’”

Kuzminski said in the event that the U.S. calls for a draft, constitutionally of an all-male registration system could have legal standing – especially in an era where women can join combat units.

“There’s a way to square the circle with both the left and the right and to say – statistically, most women are not going to be eligible for those combat positions. That’s also true of a lot of men,”  Kuzminski said. “But, if we were in a national emergency that requires a draft, we would still need to surge our human capital in order to meet the effort, whether it’s in the medical community or the logistics, supporting those who are going off to combat.” 

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