USA Today

Women would be required to register with the Selective Service if this amendment becomes law

By Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - For the first time in history, women may be on the cusp of being included in future U.S. military drafts.

When Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess, they will be working overtime to approve the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass national security package. It includes an amendment that would require women ages 18 to 25 to register for the Selective Service, alongside men.

Opponents have slammed the proposal as unfair, while supporters say the change would be good for the country - and equality.

"Women make up over 50% of our population, and not including them in the Selective Service is not only a disservice to these women but also to our nation as a whole," Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, the Pennsylvania Democrat and former Air Force officer who offered the amendment, said in September.

The provision would amend the Military Selective Service Act to require registration by women for Selective Service. The government maintains a list of men to draw from in case of a national emergency that would require expansion of the armed forces.

The Selective Service System was formed in 1917 but didn't actively register men until the 1940s, before World War II. Within 30 days of their 18th birthdays, male citizens and legal residentsare required to register for Selective Service.

There has not been a military draft in the United States in nearly 50 years.

A Government Accountability Office report found that about 17% of the active force now is women.

Almost all male citizens and immigrants between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System. Those who are confined - incarcerated, hospitalized or institutionalized - or have certain immigration visas are not.

Though women make up an increasing share of military personnel and serve in combat positions, they are exempt from registering.

In 1981, the Supreme Court concluded women could not register for the Selective Service, as they were, then, not eligible for military combat roles. That didn't change in 2015, when those roles were opened to women.

The NDAA passed the lower chamber in September. The Senate is debating the legislation, and will vote on it by the end of the year. The amended NDAA then would be returned to the House for final passage, before it lands on President Joe Biden's desk.

The House adopted the amendment to include women in the Selective Service, and it seems likely the Senate will vote on the measure. If it passes both chambers, the provision would likely remain in the final version of the bill.

The amendment has some bipartisan support in the upper chamber, and a majority on the Senate Armed Services Committee backed the amendment in a markup over the summer.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told USA TODAY she supports the proposed amendment and "women registering for selective service."

But several Republicans opposed the amendment, with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi introducing their own provision to counter it.

Cruz said he does not believe it is "fair or right to forcibly draft women into combat."

"It should be their choice," he said, if the draft were to be reinstated.

Hawley said, "I don't think we should conscript, involuntarily, wives and mothers and daughters" if the draft were reinstated.