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Women’s Choice in Service Act would allow women to opt in to the military draft, rather than either…

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Women’s Choice in Service Act would allow women to opt in to the military draft, rather than either requiring them or forbidding them entirely

Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT4)

Under this bill, next season’s WNBA players would no longer be the only women declaring for a draft.


Since 1980, all American men have been required to register with the Selective Service System for a potential military draft.

Men must register within 30 days of turning 18, or else they can be jailed up to five years and fined up to $250,000. Their name remains in the system to be called up for a potential draft up through age 25.

Women have been voluntarily joining for the military for a long time, but that’s different than registering for the actual draft. For decades, the stated reason women were actively prohibited from registering for the draft was that they were barred from serving in combat roles.

However, the military allowed women to serve in combat roles across all branches in 2015, during the Democratic Obama administration. Since then, even though women have been serving in combat for at least seven years, Congress has not updated the law to include women in the draft or require them to register for the Selective Service, should the government ever implement a draft again.

The closest they came was in 2021, when the Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee approved the change to the Selective Service as part of a larger annual military funding bill. However, the provision was stricken from the final enacted version.

Other advocates for the Selective Service change have tried getting the status quo struck down as unconstitutional in the courts. In 2021, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on the subject, seemingly requiring Congress to decide the fate of the issue one way or the other.

Now in 2022, some Congress members want to try and incorporate women’s draft registration in the annual military funding bill again.

There hasn’t actually been a draft since 1973, but some fear it may return once more. After the U.S. conclusively lost the war in Afghanistan in 2021 after 20 years, voluntary military enlistments now stand at their lowest level since the end of the Vietnam War.

What the bill does

The Women’s Choice in Service Act aims to split the difference, by neither requiring nor forbidding women from registering for the draft, but rather allowing women to voluntarily opt in.

It’s unclear that this would make much of a difference, if any, in the number of women serving in the military. Women who want to join the military, including for combat roles, already do. Odds are that these same women would also volunteer in a situation that would require a draft. But if the rest of the population’s women already don’t want to join the military, they seem unlikely to register for the draft merely because of this bill. The same can be said of men and indeed, that’s why the Selective Service registration exists in the first place.

It was introduced in the House in September 2021 as H.R. 5392, by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT4).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill is a reasonable compromise between the two polarizing positions on a very fraught, potentially life-or-death, issue.

“Amid Congress’ work to fund and support America’s armed services, an amendment forcing women to register for the draft was passed with no opportunity for discussion or debate on the floor, blindsiding [my] constituents,” Rep. Owens said in a press release. “As a father to five daughters and grandfather of eleven girls, I believe that women should not be forced to serve, but rather celebrated for their heroic contributions to our country’s military.”

What opponents say

Opponents come from both sides: those who would require women to register for the draft, and those who would forbid it.

On one side, requiring women to register “would be a grave mistake and would needlessly inject divisive social policies into important debates over our national security,” 12 Senate Republicans wrote in a June letter to Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Many of our constituents were shocked and concerned when they learned of these efforts to send American women to war against their will, and they asked us to do everything in our power to prevent the new requirement from becoming law.”

On the other side, “Simply put, as the Selective Service System is currently written, it is unconstitutional and discriminates based on sex,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA6) said in a press release. “The purpose… is bigger than just drafting combat replacements. It ensures the Selective Service System is able to provide the [Department of Defense] with the sufficient numbers of personnel with the necessary skills in the event of a national mobilization — which means cyber, STEM, technical talent, among others.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 11 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Armed Services Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

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This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin.

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