A key Republican senator said Monday he is stepping up his campaign to block a sweeping revision of military draft laws that would require women for the first time ever to register for the military draft.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said Monday he was introducing an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that would eliminate the requirement for women to register with the Selective Service System now tucked away in the massive annual Pentagon policy bill.
“It is wrong to force our daughters, mothers, wives, and sisters to fight our wars,” Mr. Hawley said in a statement.
The issue has proven politically more divisive for Republicans than for Democrats on the Hill, who have mostly supported the change. The House and Senate Armed Services panels in 2016 also approved expanding the registration requirement to women, but the provision did not survive in the final bill, which is traditionally one of the most bipartisan measures Congress takes on every year.
Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and fellow veteran Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida co-sponsored the amendment earlier this year during the bill’s committee mark-up in the House.
But in July, Mr. Hawley joined four Republican colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee in voting against requiring women to register. He acknowledged that women have played a vital role in defending America throughout the nation’s history.
“Our country is extremely grateful for the brave women who have volunteered to serve our country with and alongside our fighting forces,” he said. “But volunteering for military service is not the same as being forced into it, and no women should be compelled to do so.”
Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and now its ranking Republican member, joined Mr. Hawley in opposing the provision. Mr. Inhofe has scheduled a Tuesday press briefing to discuss what he said were issues holding up the passage of this year’s NDAA.
Requiring women to register for the draft does have bipartisan support, however, with supporters saying the time is right because all military jobs have been opened up to them. An estimated one in seven members of the overall U.S. military force are women, according to the Pentagon, and the Defense Department lifted the ban on women serving in front-line ground combat positions in December 2015.
The U.S. military draft was abolished in 1973, but U.S. males still are required to register with the government when they turn 18 should the draft ever be reintroduced.
“It is my hope that we will always have an all-volunteer force. However, I believe women should sign up for Selective Service like their male counterparts,” Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who led Army troops in Kuwait and Iraq before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, told the Des Moines Register in 2016.
Lawmakers are acting in the wake of a March 2020 report from the congressionally created National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, which recommended women be required to register and be eligible if the draft is reinstated.
The 11-member panel “seriously considered a wide range of deeply felt moral, legal, and practical arguments and explored the available empirical evidence,” the commission said in its final report.
“The commission concluded that the time is right to extend Selective Service System registration to include men and women, between the ages of 18 and 26. This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency.”