Don’t Draft Our Daughters—or Our Sons

Beginning in January 2016, all military occupations and positions opened to women, without exception. But while the U.S. military has never had a higher fraction of women, they remain just 16 percent of the total force. (Johnny Silvercloud / Flickr)

Here we go again. Last year, debates over whether or not women should be required to register for the Selective Service ground the debate over the Pentagon’s authorization bill to a halt. The summary from the Senate Armed Services Committee’s National Defense Authorization Act released on June 16 and a recent statement by the “Don’t Draft Our Daughters” contingency of the Republican party make clear that this debate isn’t going anywhere.

Actually, the Republicans are right on this one, but not for the reasons they may think. From a feminist perspective, it is clear that it would be unjust to draft women against their will—not because “women are fragile,” or in need of paternal care, but because we should not force anyone, regardless of gender, into warfighting without their full consent. Instead of arguing about women joining the Selective Service, Democrats should join the bipartisan effort to abolish the Selective Service once and for all.

We haven’t always had the Selective Service. In fact, it’s been abolished and reinstated several times in the past hundred years. There was originally no peacetime draft, which is what exists today. Rather, the draft was only enacted during wartime, and only if the necessary number of soldiers couldn’t be sourced voluntarily—an issue we haven’t faced since the Vietnam War. The U.S. has, in fact, not instituted a draft since 1973, and the Pentagon has repeatedly said they intend to continue a voluntary military force. Though the peacetime draft is a Cold War relic that has not been needed since the fall of the Soviet Union, legislators seem hell-bent on keeping it.

While congressional Republicans seem to be critically evaluating the proposal to expand draft registration—exemplified through the increase in Republican cosponsors of Selective Service repeal in recent years—Democrats appear not to be giving it much thought. Rather, many seem to conflate the issue of Selective Service expansion to the earlier debate over whether women should be able to serve in combat roles. This is because Rostker v. Goldberg in 1981 ruled that since, at the time, women could not serve in combat roles, that it was constitutional to only require men to register with the Selective Service. When, during the Obama administration, women began to be admitted into combat roles, this legal footing slipped.

For anti-war feminists, this logic was flawed from the start. 

There’s a key distinction to be made, one that, frustratingly, most members of Congress are not making. If women want to engage in warfighting, they can voluntarily enlist—like all current service members. The Selective Service expansion proposal, however, would remove all personal choice while furnishing the Selective Service agency with contact data for all young women between the ages of 18 and 26 for military recruitment purposes

While the Senate Armed Services Committee moved the expansion provision forward in June, the House Armed Service Committee declined to do so. Moving forward, this means the provision will likely either be considered through a floor debate and vote, or negotiated by a small group of legislators behind the scenes—meaning there will continue to be no democratic debate on this issue that will impact half of the U.S. population if implemented. Given the impact of such a monumental decision on their constituents, as well as 2021 polling that found support for drafting women into the military has decreased significantly since 2016, lawmakers should more seriously consider an alternative approach.

The answer to whether or not women should be included in the Selective Service is not complicated, and deserves Congress’ immediate attention: Abolish the Selective Service.

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Mac Hamilton is a D.C.-based advocate for non-violent U.S. foreign policy. She holds a B.A. from Smith College, and an international master's degree from the University of Glasgow.