Women Won’t Register for the Draft After All

They’re gaining parity within the U.S. military—but women won’t yet be required to register for compulsory service in case of war

Army Woman
Spc. Crisma Albarran volunteered for the U.S. Army. In the future, other women could be required to serve. U.S.Army - Flickr/Creative Commons

Should women have to register for the draft? The issue seemed to have been decided this year in the United States when Congress decided to move forward with plans to require gender parity in the Selective Service. But that move toward gender-blind military registration in case of war just backtracked, reports Leo Shane III for the Military Times: A bill that would have required women to register will move forward without the requirement.

Earlier this year, the Senate voted to require women to register for the draft in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which then went to a House/Senate conference committee. But as Patricia Zengerle reports for Reuters, the already controversial bill was gutted of the female draft provision by Republicans “uneasy with moves toward allowing women in combat” during negotiations.

Instead, notes Shane, the Selective Service System, which registers men who are between the ages of 18 and 25 for potential military service, will be studied to see if it’s still “realistic and cost effective.” As it stands now, the Military Selective Service Act, which lays out regulation for who must serve, does not mention words like “female” or “woman” at all. On its website, the Selective Service notes that despite the fact that women are not currently required to register, it is ready to register and draft women “if given the mission and modest additional resources.”

Exempting women from the draft has been challenged in the past. In 1981, the issue went all the way to the Supreme Court in Rostker v. Goldberg. The Court concluded, however, that the exemption of women does not constitute gender discrimination that violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Over the years, however, more and more voices have called for women to be included in the draft, especially when the Defense Department announced that all combat roles would be open to women at the beginning of 2016. Women have also made progress within the military. For example, the first female Army Rangers graduated last year, and this year Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson became the first woman to ever lead a combatant command within the U.S. military.

Though a few countries, including North Korea and Israel, actively draft women into military service, the practice is relatively rare worldwide. Norway made news last year when it required women to participate in the country’s compulsory conscription program. It is the only European country and the first NATO member that requires women to serve. “We do not adopt conscription for women because we need more soldiers,” said Norway’s defense minister in a release, “but because we need the best, no matter who they may be.”

If women are ever required to register, will they end up serving? That’s an even murkier issue. After all, the last time the draft was used was in 1973. As John Ismay reports for KPCC, a modern-day draft would rely on a random, Powerball-like machine instead of a draft board and call upon 20-year-olds first. 

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