WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee voted on Wednesday to require women to register for the draft.
Virtually all men living in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. However, amid calls for the military to open all jobs to all genders, some have argued that the draft should also become more inclusive.
Duncan D. Hunter, a Republican representative from California, filed an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would also require women to register with the Selective Service, the government agency which maintains records of who is eligible for military conscription.
“Right now the draft is sexist,” he said, according to The Washington Post on April 28.
The Post reported that Hunter, who is reportedly against a recent Pentagon policy change that would see women serving in all roles in the armed forces, “proposed the measure only to start a discussion about the draft. He voted against his amendment, arguing that anyone who favored it would be siding with the administration.”
The measure unexpectedly passed the committee in a 32-30 vote. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, joined all but one of the committee’s Democrats in supporting the measure.
“We should be willing to support universal conscription,” Speier said. “There’s great merit in recognizing that each of us have an obligation to be willing to serve our country in a time of war.”
The move comes as a class action lawsuit is gathering steam to challenge the gender-based restriction. KSAZ, an Arizona-based Fox affiliate, reported on April 21 that Elizabeth Kyle-Labell, a teenager from New Jersey, tried to register for the Selective Service two times before becoming a key member of the lawsuit.
“I’ve always felt strongly about gender equality since I was little,” she told the station.
However, the draft itself faces an uncertain future, as it’s widely viewed by modern military experts as a wasteful relic of a less technologically advanced form of war. No one has been drafted since 1975, and a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office, the government’s internal auditors, questioned whether it would even be feasible to reactivate the system.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee have also seriously considered abolishing the Selective Service altogether, according an April 24 report from Military Times.
“[M]ilitary officials over the last two decades have repeatedly downplayed the idea of reviving the military draft, saying today’s all-volunteer force is the most highly trained and disciplined in American history,” wrote Leo Shane III, Military Times’ congressional bureau chief. “While returning to the draft could connect more Americans to the armed forces, it would almost certainly also dilute that skill.”
Even the Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit that advocates for female service members, seemed lukewarm about the amendment.
“We believe that men and women should be held to the same expectations in performing their civic duties,” the group wrote in a brief policy statement published Thursday on Twitter.
“At the same time, as the voice of service women, we believe that our military is currently well-supported by its all-volunteer force and is not dependent on a draft. Given changes in society and technology, we would welcome a debate over abolishing Selective Service Registration entirely.”
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