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Senate committee approves amendment for women to register for military draft

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). (Sen. Jack Reed/Released)
July 23, 2021 and

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) officially added a defense bill markup this week that would require all women in the U.S. to register with the Selective Service System, which maintains information on those who can be called up to serve in the military through the draft.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) had prepared the amendment last week, and the committee on Wednesday approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes the language, “Amends the Military Selective Service Act to require the registration of women for Selective Service,” according to an NDAA executive summary released Thursday.

Reed’s amendment was among 321 amendments considered by the SASC, and among 143 amendments adopted in the bill. The bill will now move to the Senate floor for consideration.

The move comes more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider a case challenging the constitutionality of the existing male-only draft. In a friend of the court brief, President Joe Biden’s administration urged the court to instead let Congress handle the matter legislatively, rather than have the court render an opinion on the draft.

Discussion around ending the gender-based military draft system has grown in recent years. Calls to include women in the draft have grown particularly since the military opened all combat roles to female service members in 2015.

The Senate voted in 2016 to add women to the draft. The vote saw support from then-Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time. Politico reported the 2016 vote was primarily opposed by Republicans, but five Republicans still in the Senate did vote in favor of adding women to the draft. Those Republican Senators who favored adding women still in the Senate are Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The House Armed Services Committee adopted a similar provision on the House side of the legislative debate, but the provision was later dropped from the bill.

While legislation to add women to the draft stalled out in 2016, lawmakers later agreed to appoint a commission to consider the issue more closely. In March 2020, the bipartisan commission released their findings in favor of keeping the military draft system in place and requiring women to register through the Selective Service System.

In February, a group of 10 retired U.S. generals and admirals submitted a “friend of the court” amicus curiae brief in favor of overturning the male-only draft. They argued, “Including women in the selective service would double the pool of candidates available to draft, raising the overall quality of the conscripted force and enabling the Nation to better meet its military needs.” The group of generals also argued that while opening up combat roles to women since 2015, the U.S. military has not lowered its training standards.