There’s a new debate raging over an amendment that was just added to an annual defense bill. According to The Hill, the House Armed Services Committee, which funds and oversees the Department of Defense and the U.S. Armed Forces, voted 32-30 to include a provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that would require women ages 18 to 26 to register for the draft as early as next year.
Before everyone starts arguing, let’s get one thing straight: the draft system hasn’t actually been activated since the 1970s.
In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that women did not have to register for the draft because they weren’t allowed to serve in combat roles. That changed last year when the Pentagon tossed the 65-year-old policy.
The Army’s famously intense and elite Ranger School (less than half of students pass) also permitted women to enroll last year for the first time. Thus far, three women have passed.
Many people who support the amendment make the case that it’s a positive step toward true gender equality. Committee member Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) said: “If we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, then we should support a universal conscription.” Or, as one commenter on TheHill.com put it, “equal rights means equal responsibilities.”
Rep. Chris Gibson (R-New York) chimed in with a solid point, explaining that even if women were drafted, it doesn’t change the fact that all military jobs are based on specific criteria. Anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements for infantry or other combat roles—male or female—would still be acting in support positions.
Not surprisingly, there’s a vocal contingent making the argument that despite the policy changes that have occurred over the past year, women still don’t actually belong in combat positions. Those folks are citing a controversial Marine Corps study (peep the summary here) that looked at the impact of gender integration on combat effectiveness, and indicated that all-male units perform better.
Another argument being made by detractors is that the draft is an antiquated idea that should be abolished anyway—after all, selective service hasn’t been necessary since the Vietnam War.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), has been playing Switzerland, saying that he thinks Congress should weigh in on the pros and cons of the current draft system before any decisions are made.