Army Secretary’s Comments on Equality Spark Debate Over Female Draft Registration

At Monday’s Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington D.C., Secretary of the Army John McHugh said during a panel on women in combat roles that the pursuit of a gender-neutral military will eventually push Congress to consider whether women should also be required to register for Selective Service.

If we find ourselves as a military at large where men and women have equal opportunity, as I happen to believe they should, serving in combat positions at least on a formal basis … then ultimately the question of extending the selective service requirements to women as well will have to at least be discussed,” said Sec. McHugh according to Politico.

Sec. McHugh suggested that the American public was not quite ready to have that “pretty emotional debate and discussion“, but that “if your objective is true and pure equality then you have to look at all aspects” and that female draft registration “will be one of those things… that will have to be considered.

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McHugh’s comments come at a time when military leaders are evaluating which combat roles will be opened to women. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is set to finalize the new policies on January 1.

Current law requires that men register for the draft within 30 days of turning 18. notes that the subject of female draft registration was also discussed earlier this year at the Aspen National Security forum in Colorado. At the event, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said that she supports mandatory selective service for women. Retired Navy Admiral and ex-SEALs commander Eric Olson reportedly said that if women are to serve in combat roles, they should also be required to register for the draft.

The website of the U.S. Selective Service System says, “Selective Service law as it’s written now refers specifically to ‘male persons’ in stating who must register and who would be drafted. For women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law… The Selective Service System, if given the mission and modest additional resources, is capable of registering and drafting women with its existing infrastructure.

Prior to his retirement, former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul introduced several unsuccessful bills that would have repealed the Selective Service mandate altogether. While introducing one such bill in January of 2003, Paul said, “In 1999, then-Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, in a speech before the National Press Club, admitted that ‘Today, with our smaller, post-cold-war Armed Forces, our stronger volunteer tradition and our need for longer terms of service to get a good return on the high, up-front training
costs, it would be even harder to fashion a fair draft’… In fact, in 1993, the Department of Defense issued a report stating that registration could be stopped ‘with no effect on military mobilization and no measurable effect on the time it would take to mobilize, and no measurable effect on military recruitment.’ Shutting down Selective Service will give taxpayers a break without adversely affecting military efforts. Shutting down Selective Service will also end a program that violates the very principals of individual liberty our nation was founded upon.