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Don’t Draft Our Daughters: What Are The Facts?

September 19, 2016
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The Issue is National Security, Not “Equality”

Purpose: The Selective Service (SS) system is a relatively low-cost “insurance policy” that backs up the All-Volunteer Force.  In a future catastrophic emergency, full mobilization might require re-activation of the Selective Service system.

  • Selective Service is not about drafting people for support positions.  Its purpose is to quickly locate and train potential “combat replacements” who are needed when men are dying on the battlefield.

Problem:  If “Draft Our Daughters” legislation becomes law, any call-up of men ages 18-26 for military service would have to include equal numbers of young women.

  • Even though some exceptional women may be able to meet minimal standards, the fact remains that most women cannot meet combat arms standards while most men can. 
  • The SS system would have to divert scarce time and resources to find, evaluate, and train thousands of women ˗˗ just to find the few who might be minimally qualified for combat arms.
  • Jamming the SS system during a time of crisis, instead of concentrating on men who can be rapidly trained to fight in physically-demanding ground combat units, would create a political crisis and a paralyzing administrative overload at the worst possible time. 

Un-Equal Burdens on Women:  Empirical studies have repeatedly shown that women’s rates of injury are two- to ten-times greater than men’s and even higher in load-bearing military occupations.

  • It would not be “fair” or “equal” to register or draft women for the combat arms, since most do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or help follow soldiers survive in that environment.
  • Misplaced resentment of feminists is no excuse; both military and civilian women have always volunteered to serve in times of national emergency, and they will do so again.

Legal Justification for Women’s Exemptions.  In 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld women’s exemption from SS registration because they did not serve in the infantry. 

  • The Court also recognized the right of Congress to decide that it would be, as a Senate report stated,  “administratively unworkable” to register women with SS for a possible future draft.
  • Even with women eligible for the combat arms, Congress could make a solid legal case for women’s exemption from SS that is consistent with the Rostker v. Goldberg precedent:  It would not make sense for Selective Service to waste time and resources culling thousands of female draftees just to find the few who might meet infantry standards.
  • Congress should have full, open hearings to publicly examine recent scientific research and tests comparing the physical capabilities of male and female volunteers.  A Draft Our Daughters law would cause irreparable harm by creating a new legal precedent that would  impede future readiness to deal with catastrophic national emergencies.

Defense Bill Conferees: Don’t Draft Our Daughters

During a closed-door meeting in May, without prior notice, Republican Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) proposed surprise legislation to force 18 to 26 year-old women to register with Selective Service for a possible future draft, and to establish an unnecessary Commission on National Service to explore other options for co-ed conscription.

Six Republicans supported Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) attempt to strike the McCain “Draft America’s Daughters” Selective Service mandate in committee.[i]   Six others joined with all the Democrats in supporting Chairman McCain.  The Draft Our Daughters measure remains in the Senate version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). [ii]

A week earlier the House Armed Services Committee narrowly passed similar legislation, but it was removed from the House NDAA prior to floor action and replaced by a measure calling for a full review of the Selective Service System.  A House/Senate Conference Committee will resolve differences in the two versions of the massive NDAA shortly after Labor Day. [iii]

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NB) circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter asking Chairman McCain to reconsider.  Seventeen senators co-signed the letter, which was sent to Conference Committee leaders on September 12. [iv]  Other senators should be encouraged to join with Sen. Mike Rounds in sending a similar letter, and to personally persuade Chairman McCain to defer to the House version of the NDAA, which does not include a mandate to Draft America’s Daughters. [v]  

If Chairman McCain’s "Draft Our Daughters" language stays in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, and if the House and Senate approve the consolidated NDAA, perhaps in a "lame-duck" session, President Barack Obama likely will sign it into law.

It would be irresponsible and wrong for elected officials to enable passage of radical legislation that hurt military readiness as well as women, and to do so without any public notice or hearings in advance. 

Chairman McCain has claimed that "military leaders" want this, based on a comment that Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller stated in response to a question in February 2016.  There is no reason to believe that General's Neller's personal opinion constituted an official position of the U.S. Marine Corps

In contrast, the Senate Armed Services Committee has not revealed or conducted public  hearings on former Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford's official request for exceptions to women-in-direct-ground-combat mandates.  The administration ignored Gen. Dunford's request, which was supported by solid emperical data and submitted to the Secretary of Defense in the Fall of 2015.

Under these circumstances, the only way to preserve young women's exemption from Selective Service registration would be to vote against the entire NDAA.  To avoid this scenario, Senate and House conferees would be wise to remove the McCain measure in the Conference Committee.



[i] The following Republican senators supported the Lee amendment to strike the McCain Draft Our Daughters language from the NDAA James Inhofe (OK), Jeff Sessions (AL), Roger Wicker (MS), Tom Cotton (AR), Mike Rounds (SD) and Ted Cruz(TX).  See CMR: Senate Should Drop McCain Mandate to Register, Draft Women.  More detailed information is provided here: CMR Policy Analysis: Women, War, and Selective Service.

[ii] The following Republicans voted with all Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats to retain the Draft Our Daughters language in the NDAA: Kelly Ayotte (NH); Joni Ernst (IA); Deb Fischer (NB); Lindsay Graham; (SC); John McCain (AZ); Dan Sullivan (AK); and Thom Tillis (NC).

[iii] See CMR: House, Senate Should Defeat “Draft America’s Daughters” Legislation.  Republican House conferees are: Mac Thornberry (TX); J. Randy Forbes (VA); Jeff Miller (FL); Joe Wilson (SC); Frank LoBiondo (NJ); Rob Bishop (UT); Mike Turner (OH); John Kline (MN); Mike Rogers (AL); Trent Franks (AZ); Bill Shuster (PA); Mike Conaway (TX); Doug Lamborn (CO); Rob Wittman (VA); Chris Gibson (NY); Vicky Hartzler (MO); Joe Heck (NV); and Elise Stefanik (NY).  With the exception of Joe Heck, all Republican conferees voted No in committee.  Democratic conferees, except for John Garamendi (CA), voted Yes.

[iv] Excerpts of Sasse letter to Chairman McCain: “As you know, the Senate-passed bill includes language that would, for the first time, require women to register for the Selective Service.  We believe it is better to refrain from this expansion and to instead, task an independent commission to study the purpose and utility of the Selective Service System, specifically determining whether the current system is unneeded, if it is sufficient, or if it needs an expanded pool of potential draftees. . . Our all-volunteer military is the best military the world has ever seen, and women who wish to serve in this military are free to do so.  The provision of the FY 17 NDAA requiring women to register for the Selective Service should be removed. . . Specifically, we urge you to adopt the House position.”

[v]  The following senators co-signed the letter submitted to senior Conference Committee leaders on September 12: John Boozman, AR; Ted Cruz, TX; Steve Daines, MT; Orrin Hatch, UT; John Hoeven, ND; James Inhofe, OK; Johnny Isakson, GA; James Lankford, OK; Mike Lee, UT; Jerry Moran, KS; David Perdue, GA; Jim Risch, ID; Pat Roberts, KS; Ben Sasse, NE; Tim Scott, SC; John Thune, SD; and Roger Wicker, MS.  Others should be encouraged to join Mike Rounds (SD) in sending their own letter to SASC Chairman McCain.

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A single-page version of this SITREP article is available here:

Don’t Draft Our Daughters Fact Sheet: The Issue is National Security, Not “Equality”

The Center for Military Rediness is an independent, non-partisan, public policy organization that reports on and analyses military/social issues.  Nothing in this article in intended to advocate for legislation.  More information on this issue is available at www.cmrlink.org.  



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