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What's happening with women and draft registration ("Selective Service")?

The expansion of draft registration to women is being considered by Congress again in 2022. It’s a bad idea that won’t go away until Congress ends draft registration entirely.

This is a choice about militarism, not a choice about gender equality. Expanding draft registration to women will bring about a semblance of equality in war (although women in the military will still be subject to disproportionate sexual harassment and abuse). Ending draft registration would bring about real equality in peace and freedom, and help rein in planning for unlimited war(s).

In 2016 and again in 2021, Congress came close to approving legislation to expand the requirement to register with the Selective Service System for a possible military draft to include young women as well as young men.

On 16 June 2022, the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed a version of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA) that would expand draft registration to women as well as men. On 14 July 2022 the House of Representatives adopted a version of the FY2023 NDAA which would make no changes to the current law requiring men but not women to register for the draft. Differences between the versions of the bill adopted by the full House and full Senate will be referred to a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate a package of compromises in closed meetings. So even though the House version of the bill includes no provisions related to Selective Service, provisions based on the Senate version (or other compromises) could be included in the conference committee’s compromise package. (Timeline; coalition letter to Congress.)

By burying this legislation in a 2,000-page bill with hundreds of other provisions, Congress has avoided any floor vote or hearings on the continuation or expansion of draft registration. There have still been no hearings or debate in either the House or the Senate on the Selective Service Repeal Act (H.R. 2509 / S. 1139).

Trying to expand draft registration to young women as well as young men would mean doubling down on decades of failure of draft registration in the face of widespread noncompliance.

Since 1980, all male (as assigned at birth) U.S. residents have been required to register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18, and to notify Selective Service every time they change their address until their 26th birthday. But few young men have ever complied fully with this law. Most young men register only if and when it is required in order to get a drivers’ license (in some states but not in California or some others) or some other government program. Almost nobody tells Selective Service when they move. Most draft notices would either be undeliverable or would go to draftees’ parents, many of whom would refuse to accept these induction notices or would tear them up to protect their children.

Only 20 people have been prosecuted for refusing to register since 1980. Show trials of activists called attention to the resistance and showed that those who quietly ignored registration could not be prosecuted. The government abandoned criminal enforcement of draft registration in 1988. Resistance made registration unenforceable and made the registration list useless for an actual draft.

Women have played key roles in resistance to military conscription, even though only men were being drafted. There’s a long tradition of anti-war and anti-draft feminism. (See this sampler of feminist statements against a draft of men or women.) Women are more likely to oppose being drafted than men have been, and more people will support their resistance.

Any draft serves war, militarism, and patriarchy. The perception that the draft is always available as a “fallback” enables planning for larger, longer, less popular wars, without regard for whether people will volunteer to fight them. Members of Congress and the public need to hear from anti-war and anti-draft feminists and from young people who oppose the draft. They need to hear from women who will resist being drafted. They need to hear from allies who will support young people in their resistance.

By preventing a draft, draft registration resisters are helping to protect us all against war. We can support them by asking our Representatives and Senators to co-sponsor the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021 and urging House and Senate Armed Services Committee members to push for hearings on this bill.

(PDF version of this page for printing as a 2-sided single-sheet leaflet)

What do feminists say about the draft and draft registration?

More about women, the draft, and draft registration


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This page most recently modified 27 July 2022. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.