Language in the fiscal year 2023 Senate National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) includes a provision that would require women to register for the Selective Service, also known as the draft.
The Senate version passed out of the Armed Services Committee on June 16. The House Armed Services Committee approved its own version of the 2023 NDAA on June 23. That version does not currently include the requirement for women to register for the draft.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representative Chip Roy (TX-21) have voiced opposition to the idea of requiring women to register for the Selective Service, while a handful of Republicans led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have joined Democrats and the Biden administration in support of the provision.
“The United States does not need a larger military, and we don’t need a draft at this time,” Biden said at the Military Officers Association of America candidate forum in September 2020. “I would, however, ensure that women are also eligible to register for the Selective Service System so that men and women are treated equally in the event of future conflicts.”
During negotiations of the FY2022 NDAA, language was altered in both the House and Senate versions that would have required women to register. The bills both had the phrases “male citizen” and “male person” stricken and replaced with “citizen” and “person,” opening the door to including women in the draft.
Last year, Sen. Cruz joined several other Republicans in providing an amendment to the FY2022 NDAA that would have removed the requirement. Ultimately, the amendment was not accepted, but the final bill did not include the provision to add women to the draft.
“America’s military is a volunteer force made up of service members who decided for themselves to take the oath,” Cruz said in a statement in 2021. “My daughters know that they’re capable of achieving anything they set their minds to, but the idea that our government would force women into service through the draft to fight our nation’s wars is immoral and outrageous.”
Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) was one of the Democrats to vote in favor of altering the language to include women during the House Armed Services Committee hearings prior to the passage of the FY2022 NDAA.
“By reforming the Selective Service to be gender-neutral based registration, we draw on the talents of our entire nation in the time of a national emergency,” Houlahan said. “The current male-only registration sends a message to women not only that they are not vital to the defense of the country, but also that they are not expected to participate in defending it.”
Congressman Roy was one of the key Republicans to help strike the provision from the FY2022 NDAA that eventually was signed into law, and he has continued to push back against the proposal.
On June 16, 2022, after the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced the FY2023 NDAA with language requiring women to register, Roy sent a letter to the House Armed Services Committee calling on members to reject the proposal.
“Thousands of women serve admirably in the United States Armed Forces, and I am grateful for their service and sacrifice to our country. But, this is not a question of the dedication and willingness of American women to step up and serve their country, but whether we as a country will force the horrors of war upon our wives, our sisters, and our daughters,” Roy wrote to the committee chairman and ranking member.
“Under no circumstances should Congress greenlight a future that cripples the American family by sending mothers and daughters to the frontlines – drafted to be combat replacements for casualties on the battlefield – while fathers and sons stay home,” he added.
The U.S. has not exercised the draft since 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War. According to the Selective Service System, 1,857,304 American men were drafted between 1964 and 1973 to compensate for an inability to replace fallen volunteer troops.