Congress Drops Effort to Add Women to the Draft

U.S. Marines with Platoon 3241, Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion
U.S. Marines with Platoon 3241, Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, execute the “Eyes Right” drill movement during the Lima Company graduation ceremony aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, May 6, 2021. (Alina Thackray/U.S. Marine Corps)

Women will not have to sign up for a potential draft any time soon after an effort to add them to the Selective Service System was dropped from a sweeping defense bill.

A congressional aide confirmed to that a provision that would have required women to register for the draft will not be in the compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that is expected to be released later Tuesday.

The outcome, which was first reported by Politico, comes as a surprise since the provision was included in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA and had bipartisan support.

The United States has not instituted a draft since the Vietnam War, and military officials repeatedly have said they have no intention of moving away from an all-volunteer force.

But men ages 18 through 25 still must register with what's officially called the Selective Service System or face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college.

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Momentum has been growing to make women register since 2015, when all combat jobs were opened to them, rendering moot the previous rationale for excluding them from the draft.

In July, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 21-5 to add women to the draft registration system, with seven Republicans among the "yes" votes. The House Armed Services Committee approved the change in September in a 35-24 vote, with four Republicans supporting it.

The committee approval came after a congressionally mandated commission last year recommended draft registration be expanded to include women, calling it a "necessary and fair step."

But a small, vocal group of conservatives was adamantly opposed to making women register and threatened to vote against the NDAA as a whole if the final bill included the provision to, in its words, "draft our daughters."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a potential 2024 presidential candidate who led the charge against the provision in the Senate, responded to reports that it is being removed from the compromise NDAA by saying he "certainly hope[s] that is the case."

"If it is not, then I will keep fighting for a vote on the Senate floor to strip this wrong and misguided provision out of the final bill," he added in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing the expectation that Congress soon would act on the issue. But three justices indicated the court could be open to revisiting the issue if Congress failed to act.

"It remains to be seen, of course, whether Congress will end gender-based registration under the Military Selective Service Act. But at least for now, the Court's long-standing deference to Congress on matters of national defense and military affairs cautions against granting review while Congress actively weighs the issue," Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh, wrote in a June statement.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Congress Moves Closer to Making Women Register for the Draft

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