House Lawmakers Strike Amendment Requiring Women to Register for Draft

Rules committee approves provision to block ‘reckless policy'

Women in Draft
Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor / AP

The House Rules Committee on Monday struck an amendment to an annual defense bill that would have required women to register for the military draft.

The full House met Tuesday to mark up the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision amending the Military Selective Service Act, a law that implemented the current military draft, so that it would apply to women. Ahead of the markup, the Rules Committee approved an amendment filed by its chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas), striking language that would require women to register for the draft.

The amendment, which would also mandate the Pentagon review the Selective Service System, is "to be considered as adopted," according to a summary of 61 accepted amendments released by the committee. As a result, the provision opening up the draft to women did not appear in the NDAA when the full House began its markup of the legislation on Tuesday.

Sessions said the committee took action to ensure that a "reckless policy" would not be put in place without sufficient oversight.

"I believe this action, taken after close consultation with [House Armed Services Committee Chair Mac] Thornberry and a number of my colleagues, ensures a reckless policy is not put forward without the proper information and oversight to make an informed decision," Sessions told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement Tuesday morning.

"I have the utmost respect and deepest appreciation for the young women who bravely volunteer to serve our country, but I am adamantly opposed to coercing America’s daughters to sign up for the selective service at 18 years of age. I believe this amendment begins that important and necessary discussion."

The provision would require Defense Secretary Ash Carter to submit a report on the Selective Service System to Congress that would analyze the effects of expanding registration to include women.

Proposals to require women to register for the military draft have gained traction after the Obama administration opened all combat jobs—including the demanding infantry and special forces operations—to women.

While the United States has not had a military draft since the Vietnam War era, American men are required to register for Selective Service when they turn 18. The Selective Service Act, which applies to men between the ages of 18 and 26, has never included women. A 1981 Supreme Court ruling, Rostker v. Goldberg, previously held that the Selective Service’s male-only requirement was constitutional given that women were barred from combat roles.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee narrowly approved an amendment to the fiscal 2017 NDAA last month that would have required women ages 18 to 26 to register for Selective Service.

The original amendment was brought forward by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), a Marine veteran, to spur discussion about integrating women into ground combat roles and the draft and to put members of Congress on the record about the issue. While Hunter ultimately voted against the amendment, it passed with united support from Democrats.

Hunter opposes the Obama administration’s decision to open up all combat roles to women, including infantry and special operations. Carter announced the move in December in the face of objections from the Marine Corps and an in-depth study showing that female Marines performed worse in combat operations than their male counterparts. Hunter believes that the White House has left Congress no choice but to explore the possibility of opening the draft up to women.

Joe Kasper, Hunter’s chief of staff, told the Free Beacon that the congressman supported the Rules Committee accepting Sessions’ amendment. Hunter "conveyed his support" to Sessions for the effort before the amendment was introduced, Kasper said.

Still, Kasper said that Hunter was unsure how he would have voted if the amendment was considered for a vote during this week’s markup.

Rep. Adam Smith (D., Wash.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, slammed the Rules Committee’s move as a "dead-of-the-night attempt to take an important issue off the table."

The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of the NDAA last week and decided in a closed-door session to include language requiring women to register for the draft. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill soon.

"Because the Department of Defense has lifted the ban on women serving in ground combat units, the committee believes there is no further justification in limiting the duty to register under the Military Selective Service Act to men," a summary released by the committee on Thursday explains. "Furthermore, each uniformed chief of the services testified to their personal support of including women in the requirement to register for selective service."

Both the Army chief of staff and the Marine commandant said earlier this year that the Pentagon’s decision to open up combat jobs to women means that women should be required to register for the draft.

"Now that the restrictions that exempted women from [combat jobs] don’t exist, then you’re a citizen of a United States," Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine commandant, told the Washington Post following testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. "It doesn’t mean you’re going to serve, but you go register."

A poll released by Rasmussen Reports in February found that most women oppose having to register for the military draft.