Religious conservatives, along with an Iraq War veteran, an anti-war activist and a representative of the Religious Society of Friends, known as the Quakers, presented arguments Wednesday for why women should not be included in the United States' draft registration system, with some making the case that the Selective Service System should be abolished altogether.
At the seventh hearing of a federal commission studying the future of the American draft and public service writ large, several people testifying said that conscripting women would hurt military readiness and society in general, citing higher injury rates for women in the combat arms and the impact of an inclusive draft on the contributions women make as mothers and caregivers.
Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with the Catholic Association and author of "Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female," said expanded draft registration would hurt women's "unique freedom to make choices as to whether or not to prioritize their family or their career."
She said drafting women for combat would be patently unfair because women's physical limitations give them "an unequal chance of surviving" on the frontlines. It also would undermine "their contribution to family, society and to their country," she said.
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"Women's vocation to motherhood is the thing I'm most concerned about. ... The role women play as mothers is different than the role men play as fathers," McGuire said.
Her perspective was largely supported by fellow panelist Dr. Mark Coppenger, a professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said that, while he doesn't think women should be relegated to "hearth and home," societies do better when women are present for their children -- and a draft including women, who would be called up during their prime childbearing years -- would hurt the country.
"[But] if you get to the point as a nation that you have to draft women out of the home to bear arms, it's pretty much over anyway," Coppenger said.
The 11-member National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is conducting a three-year review of volunteerism and national service in America, with a particular focus on the need for a Selective Service System -- the organization that maintains a database to support a potential draft -- and whether women should be required to register.
Currently, all male U.S. citizens ages 18-25 are required to register with Selective Service. If they fail to register, they can be convicted of a felony and face a fine up to $250,000, up to five years of prison, or a combination of the two.
While the system rarely prosecutes those who don't comply, failure to register makes a man ineligible for federal employment or federal student loans.
When the Obama administration opened all military occupational specialties to women in 2016, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees moved to change the Selective Service System to include women, adding a provision to the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization bill.
The amendment, however, didn't make it into the final bill and, instead, included the creation of the commission to study the issue.
As part of their process, commission members are holding 14 public hearings to hear expert witness testimony and receive public comment.
On Thursday, at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., former Marine Sgt. Jude Eden testified, saying that, as an Iraq War veteran, she believes the system should stand as a deterrent to foreign adversaries but, in its current configuration, should not include women because its purpose is to "replace men dying by the thousands at the very front of the fight" and most women aren't physically able to perform such duties.
Putting women on the frontlines in large numbers would diminish combat effectiveness because they are more susceptible to injury, she argued.
"Active-duty military women average two to 10 times the injuries compared to military men. These rates have been constant over decades despite advancements in training methods," Eden said. "And these are the stats on women who maintain high fitness standards. ... Drafting civilian women for combat replacements would mean higher turnover and diminish combat effectiveness."
Two panelists said they believe the system should be eliminated completely: Quaker representative Diane Randall, because as pacifists, the Society of Friends opposes universal conscription based on the principle of conscience; and Edward Hasbrouck, a writer and member of the War Resisters League who spent four months in jail for refusing to register with Selective Service.
Hasbrouck argued that the draft registration is a failed system, since millions of Americans who should be registered are not, nor have they been prosecuted. The disparate group of resisters, he said, "has made draft registration unenforceable and a draft unfeasible."
"It's time to admit that, like it or not, draft registration has failed and should be ended entirely," Hasbrouck said.
Randall said the current system discriminates based on gender, age and socioeconomic status, and the answer is not to expand it, but to end it and eliminate penalties for failing to register.
"At a minimum, we support legal accommodation for conscientious objection to military service and military taxation. Individuals who decline to register with the Selective Service as an act of conscience should not be penalized from any benefits and opportunities provided by our federal government," Randall said.
She added that it may be in the government's best interest to focus on other segments of national security instead of just preparing for combat.
"There are other threats to our country that we are seeing, in our election system, in rising sea levels, cybersecurity threats, that do not get the level of attention they should have," Randall said. "It's not impossible to imagine that this country could be attacked in a World War II or Vietnam. But it has been attacked, with the election system. It feels like a question about readiness for combat is not what we should be asking right now."
According to the Pew Research Center, of 191 countries in the world, 60 have some type of active conscription or draft program. The United States is one of 23 countries that has a system in place but does not actively engage in a draft. The remaining countries either have no legal provision for conscription or a standing military.
Countries that actively conscript men and women into their militaries include Israel, Venezuela, Bolivia, North Korea, Tunisia and Morocco. Sweden and Norway both have a requirement to serve but either offer an option besides military service or accept deferrals.