Senate Democrats are quickly advancing legislation that would expand the military draft to include women.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment last week as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which would amend the Military Selective Service Act to require women to register with the Selective Service System.
Two Republican committee members, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, spoke out against the proposal after the committee’s summary of the closed-door hearing was released Thursday.
“American women have heroically served in and alongside our fighting forces since our nation’s founding,” Mr. Hawley said Friday on Twitter. “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.”
Mr. Cotton said he would work to remove the measure before the bill passes on the Senate floor.
Similar measures to expand the draft were included in both the House and Senate armed service committees’ versions of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2016, but the measures were not signed into law. Instead, Congress created the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which concluded in March 2020 that “the time is right” to include 18- to 26-year-old women in the Selective Service System.
Opponents said the commission, which focused broadly on compelling national service beyond the military, failed to consider the effects on readiness during a national emergency.
“Women have always served in the military,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and former adviser to President George H.W. Bush. “They’ve always stepped up to volunteer. Whether it’s a civilian emergency or a military emergency, there’s no reason to believe women would not do the same.”
But Mrs. Donnelly said the specific purpose of the draft is to replace combat casualties sustained by those serving in combat roles such as infantry and special operations, rather than support roles that, until 2015, were the only roles open to women.
Close to five years later, 653 women have served in Army combat roles, according to the Center for a New American Security. The Army has had 1,055 women in its training pipeline for combat roles but faced an attrition rate of up to 72%, depending on the specialization.
Still, several women have completed the grueling training for elite special operations billets. Two female Army officers completed Ranger school in 2015 alone. By March 2020, 44 women had graduated. In 2019, two female soldiers passed selection to serve in the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. A National Guard soldier last year became the first woman to complete the Army’s selection to become a Green Beret.
Last month, the first female sailor completed the Naval Special Warfare combatant-craft crewman training course to become a member of the Navy’s elite Special Boat Teams. The training is considered among the Navy’s most grueling, with an attrition rate of approximately 65%.
Mrs. Donnelly said these success stories do not necessarily translate to a large-scale mobilization of women in a national emergency. She said the commission failed to account for physical differences between men and women that will make combat units less effective if ignored.
“I think the commission really did not meet its expectations,” she said. “I think women in this country deserve better than that. The military deserves better than that. Certainly, combat arms units need to be treated more seriously than a social experiment, a social experiment that we already know is not going to work.”
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, Mrs. Donnelly cited key findings from a three-year Marine Corps study, which noted several “gender-related physical deficiencies” that would negatively impact coed combat units.
Mrs. Donnelly also cited 2018 changes to the Army Combat Fitness Test aimed at making the test “gender-neutral.” The initial fielding of the test resulted in an 84% failure rate among female soldiers compared with a 30% failure rate among male soldiers.
“This is a denial of reality that is not going to work,” Mrs. Donnelly said of the committee’s decision to include women in the draft. “So if you have these theories, and you ignore reality, what you’re going to create is a problem. Because if this policy goes through, contrary to what the national commission said, we’re going to find that combat arms units would be less strong, less fast, more vulnerable to debilitating injuries, less ready for deployment on short notice, less accurate with offensive weapons during combat operations. None of these things are justifiable. So no, the time is not right for this, at this time or any time, for that matter.”
The Supreme Court last month declined to rule and deferred to Congress on a challenge to the men-only draft brought by the National Coalition for Men, which argued that the draft, in its current form, is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Multiple justices expressed hope that Congress would include a measure to expand the draft in this year’s defense bill and cited a March Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter but ultimately deferred the legislative branch on matters of national defense.
Several members of Congress have recently called for ending the draft altogether, regardless of whether it applies to men or women, or both. In April, Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, and Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican, introduced a bill to abolish the Selective Service.
“No young person, regardless of gender, should be subject to a military draft or be forced to register for a draft in the United States,” Mr. DeFazio said. “The military draft registration system is an unnecessary, wasteful bureaucracy which unconstitutionally violates Americans’ civil liberties and unfairly subjects individuals who fail to register for the draft to unnecessarily severe, lifelong penalties — penalties which disproportionately affect low-income Americans.”
The lawmakers wrote to the chairman and ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee Friday in opposition to the expansion of the draft, and urged the committee to include their bill in the House version of the NDAA.
Other lawmakers said that any draft that is carried out should be equal.
“I am not in favor of the draft,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Washington Times. “But I don’t understand how men and women could be treated differently if a draft were put in place.”
The House Armed Services begins subcommittee markups to the NDAA Wednesday.