Of Course Women Should Register For the Draft


Women have been serving honorably in the armed forces for as long as the armed forces have existed — they’ve either hidden their gender, seen combat “unofficially,” or served in “support” roles — an increasingly blurry distinction. The renewed debate on the draft is an important step forward in ensuring that the United States maintains its immense military advantage even in the face of a global conflict requiring a draft.

The opening of all combat specialties in the military to women has been a contentious issue, leading Rep. Duncan Hunter to introduce legislation to modify the Selective Service Act, saying “If you’re going to have women in infantry units, if a draft ever occurred, America needs to realize that its daughters and sisters would be included.” Though introduced as an objection to combat integration, the thoughtful consideration of the costs of war is an important obligation of citizenship. With all due respect to the congressman, the daughters and sisters and wives and mothers of many are already choosing to serve, along with the sons and brothers and husbands and fathers.

Emotionally, there seems to be a visceral reaction against requiring our “daughters and sisters” to serve in the military — but horror at harm befalling a loved one is not limited to women. A war in which the United States is compelled to re-institute the draft to augment the all-volunteer force will exact a toll on the families of all who serve — male or female, volunteer or conscript.

Furthermore, a conscription force that only has access to half of the population will be at a profound disadvantage, especially given the sobering statistics on the percentage of youth who are not qualified to serve. The arguments heard from many against women serving in combat are based on physical qualifications, an objection that due to average fitness levels in the United States would plague any potential combat draftees. Quite frankly, the draft is based not on physical fitness or mental aptitude — qualities tested by military recruiters — but on the need to add people to the fight — regardless of training level.

Both the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, and the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the draft should be open to women. This marks a shift for the Marine Corps, which petitioned the secretary of defense to keep combat infantry roles closed to women, but has since released its Force Integration Implementation Plan. Now that the decision has been made, Gen. Neller notes they are “stepping out smartly on this new mission.”

The Supreme Court decision ruling women are not required to register for Selective Service, Rostker v. Goldberg, cites the fact that women will not be serving on the front lines as justification for the distinction, which is no longer the case. With the opening of all combat positions to women, there is simply no legal argument to be made that women should not be registering for the draft.

Just as the military has taken a renewed look at ingrained and outdated policies such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the exclusion of women from combat roles, it is time to change the Selective Service Act to reflect the obligation and capability of all young Americans to serve if the circumstances should call for it. Congress should reform the draft to include women, not to scare the country into a debate over women in combat, but to strengthen the future conscripted force and ensure that should another global conflict occur, Americans are ready to serve to the best of our ability.


Amy Schafer is the Research Assistant for the Military, Veterans, & Society program at the Center for a New American Security.


Photo credit: Sgt. Tyler L. Main, U.S. Marine Corps