On Tuesday, the Senate voted to approve a military bill that would require women to register for the draft when they turn eighteen, just as men do. Despite the debate that this issue inspires, especially among more conservative legislators, the bill passed with support from both parties.
In accordance with this bill, women turning eighteen on or after January 1, 2018 would be required to register for the draft. Failure to do so could result in a loss of financial aid, including Pell grants. The New York Times's report on the bill adds that this new policy will not apply to women who have already turned eighteen by then - they will not have to register for the draft and therefore will not risk losing their financial aid for doing so.
The draft, or military conscription, is only used in dire situations and has not been used at all since the Vietnam War in 1973. Over forty years later, the composition of the military has tranformed, with women recently being allowed to serve on the front lines. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that women should not have to register for the draft because they did not serve in the infantry. Since that has changed, it stands to reason that the decision should be reconsidered as well.
Although there was bipartisan support for the bill, some members of Congress are still strongly opposed to this policy change. Former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz said yesterday, "I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat."
Even so, most Republicans were for the change. Senator of Arizona and chairman of the Armed Services Committee John McCain said, "Every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it's fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services."
McCain added, "I respect the senator from Texas's view. Too bad that view is not shared by our military leadership, the ones who have had the experience in combat with women."
After passing in the Senate, the bill will now be sent to the conference committee, where the Senate version of the bill and the House version of the bill will be merged into one. Legislators and military experts are expected to continue to debate this bill, suggesting that even after yesterday’s vote, this ideological disagreement is far from resolved.
Notably absent from this debate in the Senate are women. In the Senate, there are only twenty women, as compared to 80 men. Only one female Senator is quoted in The New York Times’s article on the bill, whereas as four male Senators are. Political representation is another important issue that must be addressed. This major policy decision affecting women was not made by women, it was made by an overwhelmingly male legislature that is not at all representative of America’s population. The new policy on the draft does make progress for the cause of equal rights for women, but it would be nice if more women had been able to help make that decision.