The report does not require action, but its recommendations pave the way for lawmakers to move to include women in the draft more than 100 years after Congress passed the Military Selective Service Act in 1917. While no one has been conscripted into the U.S. military in more than 40 years, the act requires all American men to register for the draft when they turn 18. Men who fail to register can be fined, imprisoned and denied services such as federal student loans.
A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The recommendation comes five years after then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter formally rescinded the Pentagon’s combat exclusion policy that had prevented women from serving in combat roles. Today, more than 224,000 women serve on active duty, and at least 30 women completed the U.S. Army Ranger School as of August 2019, according to the report.
While it’s not clear that Congress will immediately take up legislation to allow women to register for the Selective Service, the report gives lawmakers a mandate to do so. In 2017, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have required women register for the draft, but the proposal was dropped from the bill. At the time, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), then-chairman of the Armed Services Committee, argued the amendment was getting ahead of the mandated review.
A proposal to expand the draft to include women was first introduced in 2016 by then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, a vocal opponent of women serving in combat, in an unusual episode during negotiations over the annual defense policy bill. Hunter offered the amendment as a dare, and voted against his own proposal.
Today, the public’s opinion on including women in the draft is mixed, with 53 percent supporting the change and 38 percent opposing in a 2017 survey cited by the commission. The commission heard from many people who “fervently” believed women should not be required to register for the draft. Some expressed concerns that including women would damage their ability to perform their “unique status in society” as wives, mothers and caregivers. Others raised concerns over the possible risks to women posed by combat roles, saying women are more likely to be injured in training.
Some asserted that integrating female conscripts would have a significant impact on military readiness “due in large part to natural physical differences between men and women that have practical consequences for the lethality of gender-integrated fighting units,” according to the report.
But calls to expand the draft to women have been growing in recent years. In a 2019 case, a federal judge in Texas ruled that an all-male draft was unconstitutional in response to a lawsuit brought forward by the National Coalition for Men.
Experts argue that allowing women to participate in the draft will enable the military to access to a wider talent pool, as well as allow women to share in a fundamental civil obligation.
“It’s insulting to suggest America’s mothers and wives and daughters couldn’t contribute, whether the need were rebuilding levees after a natural disaster or repelling an invasion from our shores,” Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told the commission. “America’s daughters should be slotted into service as their physical and emotional suitability proves capable of, just like America’s sons.”