Women should be eligible for the draft, commission tells Congress

Abbie Bennett
March 25, 2020 - 11:07 am

Photo by SGT. Gruart/National Archives.

Women should be eligible for the draft, a commission advised Congress in a report years in the making. 

“In reviewing the question of whether selective service registration should include women, the commission seriously considered a wide range of deeply felt moral, legal, and practical arguments and explored the available empirical evidence,” the report reads. 

“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.”

The idea of including women in the draft was the most controversial part of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service's report.

“The question of expanding selective service registration to all Americans evoked a range of passionate and heartfelt views,” the report said. 

Much of the commission’s decision appears to be predicated on the expansion of all combat roles to include women, though nearly 80 percent of today’s military positions are classified as “noncombat.” 

The report also notes that women have served alongside men in the military since the Revolutionary War. Women are now the fastest-growing sub-group in the military.

“Eligibility for the draft has historically centered on the contemporary judgment of Americans regarding who was fit for military service, starting with young adult white men and broadening over time,” the report reads. “Today, more than 224,000 women serve on active duty … Since 2016, over 2,900 women have accessed into Army combat positions alone.” 

Including women in the draft “promotes the national security of the United States by allowing the president to leverage the full range of talent and skills available during a national mobilization” and “reaffirms the nation’s fundamental belief in a common defense, and signals that both men and women are valued for their contribution in defending the nation.”

Not including women in selective service “unacceptably excludes women from a fundamental civic obligation and reinforces gender stereotypes about the role of women, undermining national security,” according to the report’s authors. “Expanding draft eligibility to women will enable the military to access the most qualified individuals, regardless of sex.” 

Congress and the president established the commission as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017. The commission was tasked with two main missions: 

  • Conduct a review of the military selective service process
  • Consider how to increase participation in military, national and public service to address national security needs. 

The commission spent years crafting what would become a 255-page report to lawmakers, military leaders and the president with 164 recommendations. It was the first time in history the United States government sought a comprehensive review of all forms of national service.

Part of the commission’s aim was not just to alter the way selective service operates, but to make changes to encourage voluntary service. By 2031, report authors said they envision 5 million Americans participating in military, national or public service annually, and with that, a minimal need for traditional military recruiting.


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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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