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From Draft NOtices, January - March 2016

Will women be drafted? Will women be required to register for the draft?

— Edward Hasbrouck

When the Supreme Court upheld males-only draft registration in 1981, it based its decision on "deference" to the decisions of the Department of Defense and the Commander-In-Chief, at that time, not to assign women to any combat position. The facts underlying that Supreme Court decision have now changed with the announcement on December 4, 2015, that women in the military will be considered for all combat jobs.

Several lawsuits again challenging males-only draft registration had been filed when the Pentagon announced that it would begin considering women for some combat positions in 2013. It's unclear which of these lawsuits, or which new one, will be the first one to be decided. But it's now highly likely that males-only draft registration will be found unconstitutional. Such a court ruling would force Congress to choose whether to extend draft registration to women, or to let a court decision ending registration stand.

Under current law, the courts can't order women to register. Nor can the President or the Pentagon, without action by Congress to change the law. So unless Congress extends the registration requirement to women, registration of men will have to end if courts find that it is illegally discriminatory. On the other hand, the current males-only draft registration could be ended by Presidential proclamation, by Congress, or by the Federal courts if they find that it is unconstitutional.

(Women are included in plans and preparations for a draft of health care workers. But the Selective Service System plans to rely on professional licensing lists as the basis for these induction orders, not to try to get doctors, nurses, and other medical workers to register. And nobody could actually be drafted under this or any other scheme without further action by Congress.)

Regardless of whether Congress or the President think that young women "should" be ready and willing to be drafted, the only realistic choice for Congress is not to extend draft registration to women, but to end it for all. Congress could enact a law extending draft registration to women, but draft registration isn't self-implementing. Extending registration to women would require getting women to comply with the law, and enforcing the law if they don't do so voluntarily.

Is there any reason to think that young women would be more willing to sign up to be drafted than young men have been? I doubt it. When President Carter announced his proposal to reinstate draft registration in his State of the Union address in 1980, some of the strongest initial grassroots opposition came from women. Many women remained active in the resistance, including in the National Resistance Committee, even after the bill approved by Congress was narrowed to require only men to register -- though the press tended to focus on male resisters.

Women have been among those health care workers most concerned about Selective Service preparations for a draft of doctors, nurses, and many other medical professionals, which would include women but would be based on professional licensing lists rather than on self-registration of potential draftees.

Women share many of men's reason not to register, and they have other reasons of their own. Today, people of all ages and genders question why the U.S. is supporting the fundamentalist (and supremely sexist) monarchy in Saudi Arabia, or a dictatorship in Yemen, among others. There are both feminist and sexist arguments against subjecting women to the draft and draft registration.

Extending draft registration to women will provoke at least as much resistance as did draft registration for men in 1980. It will force the government, once again, to choose whether to turn the country into a police state to round up all those who fail to register on demand, or to try (probably unsuccessfully) to terrorize them into compliance through show trials and incarceration of a few of the people seen as "leaders" of the resistance.

Draft registration of men has been a fiasco for the government since its resumption in 1980. But the government has never been able to find a face-saving way to end registration and shut down the Selective Service System without admitting that its scare tactics failed, or dealing with the implications of young people's insistence on making their own choices about which wars they are willing to fight.

The likelihood and imminence of a court ruling that males-only draft registration is now unconstitutional provides the perfect opportunity for Congress to end draft registration entirely.

Some Questions for Young Women to Consider:

Would you register for the draft if it is extended to women? Would you speak out publicly about not registering? Is there anything we can do to support you? Have you written things about registration and the draft that you would like us to publish -- anonymously, pseudonymously, or in your real name -- or link to? Are there resources already published about this that you would like us to link to? Are you working together with other young women who don't want to register, and/or other supporters? Please share links, things you are doing that you want others to know about, or ways that you think men and older people can help.

Contact Edward Hasbrouck,, or the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft,

Author’s background: In 1980, after a five-year hiatus, the U.S. government reinstated the requirement that all young men register for military conscription with the Selective Service System. In 1982, Edward Hasbrouck was selected for criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of the people they considered the most vocal of the several million non-registrants for the draft. As one of 20 non-registrants who were prosecuted before the government abandoned the enforcement of draft registration, he was convicted and served a six-month sentence in a federal prison camp.

This article originally appeared at and was reprinted with permission in Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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