Senate Defense Bill Would Require Women to Register for the Draft

Staff Sgt. Emily Torres reaches for the weighted basket to demonstrate how, through teamwork, she can help unload and carry the weight of her fellow Sisters-in-Arms, March 5, 2018, at the Sisters-in-Arms meet and greet in Germany. (Brittany Jones/21st Theater Sustainment Command)

The Senate Armed Services Committee's proposed 2022 defense policy bill contains a provision that would require women to register for the draft, officially known as the Selective Service System.

The initial version of the Senate's proposed National Defense Authorization Act would amend the Military Selective Service Act and for the first time include a requirement for women.

Congress previously has contemplated including women in the system, although the change has never survived negotiations over the annual defense policy bill. 

The move follows recommendations by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service last year that Selective Service registration be extended to women. Since restrictions on women serving in combat arms were lifted in 2015, lawmakers -- as well as plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of men-only registration -- have argued that they should need to register.  

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided against hearing a case on the issue, with the justices agreeing with the U.S. solicitor general's argument that Congress, not the courts, should decide the matter.

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Last year, lawmakers introduced the provision in the House, but it never made it past committee.

The U.S. abolished the draft in 1973 but preserved the Selective Service System for use during a national emergency. All male American citizens ages 18 to 26 are required to register.

In April, lawmakers introduced legislation to abolish the system entirely, calling the $25 million annual cost to run it a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"Congress hasn't come close to reinstating a military draft in 50 years, and I can't imagine a scenario where it would," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., one of the bill's cosponsors. 

"It has been nearly 50 years since the draft was last used," added Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. "I've long stated that if a war is worth fighting, Congress will vote to declare it and people will volunteer. This outdated government program no longer serves a purpose and should be eliminated permanently."

The panel's proposed $740 billion defense policy bill also includes a provision that would require the Pentagon to engage in mobilization exercises every five years to test the Selective Service System's processes, including how it would induct personnel into the military services in an emergency.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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