Does Obama administration support for female draft hold any weight?

The White House support for the inclusion of women in the Selective Service comes as many female service members are bracing for the possibility that President-elect Trump could close off inroads for women in the military.

Andrew Harnik/AP
Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 22. The Obama administration is announcing its support for requiring women to register for the military draft. The administration has been deliberating for roughly a year about whether to back such a change to the Selective Service.

The US military draft should not longer be just for men, says the Obama administration. 

The Selective Service, commonly referred to as the draft, currently requires all American men to register for the draft after their 18th birthday or risk losing jobs and student aid. The United States hasn’t enacted the draft since the Vietnam War in 1973, but some women in the US have long decried the all-male draft as a lasting symbol of gender discrimination.  

“Law often lags behind changes in society and culture, as we have seen most recently with legislation regarding same-sex marriage: Let’s correct this case as well,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University, writes for CNN. “Selective Service is the first direct contact with the military many citizens have – and the only one most will ever have. If it’s reserved only for men, what message does this send about gender equity?”

Last year was a big year for women in the military. The Pentagon opened all military jobs to women, including Special Forces and ground combat positions, and the prestigious Ranger School celebrated its first female graduates.

And military administrations under President Obama say integrating the draft is another move in the right direction.

“The act of draft registration has long served as a powerful reminder to our nation’s youth that public service is a valued part of American citizenship,” Ned Price, a spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, said Thursday. “As old barriers for military service are being removed, the administration supports – as a logical next step – women registering for the Selective Service.”

The president’s support is mostly symbolic: Mr. Obama will leave the White House in less than two months and the House of Representatives passed a $611 billion defense policy bill Friday, which pointedly omits a provision to include women in the draft, despite the provision passing in the Senate.

The idea of including women in the draft has been met with strong reservations from many conservatives.

“I have the utmost respect and deepest appreciation for the young women who bravely volunteer to serve our country, but I am adamantly opposed to expanding the draft and coercing America’s daughters to fight on the front lines,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R) of Texas told Stars and Stripes in May.

And former presidential candidate and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas called a co-ed draft “nuts” during a GOP debate.

The election of Republican Donald Trump has sparked concerns among female service members that some of the other gains that women have made during the Obama administration may be rolled back under President-elect Trump's administration.

Trump has heavily hinted about “the potential for the future administration to repeal the lifting of the ban on women in ground combat,” retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano, and chief operating officer of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told the Christian Science Monitor’s Anna Mulrine Grobe last month.

During his campaign, Trump also described the recent gender integration as a case of “politically correct[ness],” and suggested that sexual assault in the military is an obvious side-effect.

But Trump showed support for women in the military back in August 2015, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that some women deserve combat roles because they are “really into it,” and “really, really good at it.”

Army Capt. Jill Mueller is one such woman who has expressed a love of military service.

“It would be a painful disappointment for me if the administration keeps women out of certain combat roles, but it’s not hopeless,” Capt. Mueller told the Monitor. But at the same time, “it doesn’t matter if the new administration changes the policy.... Based on everything I have seen throughout my military career, I have zero doubt that the combat exclusion policies will someday seem illogical.”

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