U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee recently approved legislation requiring young women to register for Selective Service as well as men, if enacted. In the rare event of a war or other national emergency, women would be up for the draft for the first time in the nation’s history.

This amendment was added the Senate National Defense Authorization Act (SNDAA) Thursday. Most of the committee’s Republicans voted favorably Thursday, with a final vote of 23-3. However, over the weekend, it was reported that some voted against the Pentagon’s authorization in committee. Friday, their aides revealed their opposition was based upon concerns regarding the draft issue.

Background on Selective Service

From 1940 until 1973, during war and peace men were drafted into the United States Armed Forces, filling vacancies that could not be voluntarily filled. During the Vietnam War, nearly two million men were drafted by the U.S. government to serve in the military. The Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files indicates 58,212 men and eight women were killed during the Vietnam Conflict. Due to draft controversy and the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon officially ended military conscription and established an all-volunteer force in 1973.

Why is this New Legislation so Controversial?

Requiring women, just like men, to register with Selective Service for potential military draft has never been a popular idea. However, for the first time, women can now fill all roles of the military. More than 680 enlisted females and 260 female officers were already serving the United States on active duty as infantry, tankers, or cavalry scouts. Last year, there were 52 officers and 179 enlisted women serving our country in combat arms billets in the Marine Corps.

Is the fear of women registering with Selective Service out of date? Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted Friday, “American women have heroically served in and alongside our fighting forces since our nation’s founding – It’s one thing to allow American women to choose this service, but it’s quite another to force it upon our daughters, sisters, and wives. Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong and so do I.”

All Must Register

According to the Selective Service System, federal law currently requires men 18 years of age to register. Immigrants are required to register within 30 days of arriving in the country. If you fail to register, you are not eligible for federal student aid, federal jobs training, or federal jobs. Further, you might be prosecuted and fined up to $250,000 with potential jail time of up to five years. If you are trying to immigrate, you will not be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Conscientious objectors must also register. If a draft is authorized, conscientious objectors can file a claim for exemption from military service based upon their religious or moral objection to war.

The Selective Service website also states, “US citizens or immigrants who are born male and changed their gender to female are still required to register. Individuals who are born female and changed their gender to male are not required to register.” Should the NDAA legislation pass, being transgender will no longer impact selective service eligibility. All will be required to register.

Bill Heads to the Senate Floor

Will the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act and amendments be approved as written? Doubtful, as politics will probably rule the day with other additions impacting the vote. Ranking Republican James M. Inhofe (R-OK), offered an amendment to authorize $25 billion more than President Biden requested. Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren objected to the SNDAA. With 321 amendments and 143 bipartisan amendments considered by the committee, the final 23-3 vote on Thursday to advance the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) appeared favorable. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. With politics in play, Selective Service registration for women will continue to be a topic for debate.


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Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition and has co-authored “The Transitioning Military Series”. He is the co-founder of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. More about Jay and his passion can be found at Gr8Transitions4U.com.