Congressional bill to draft women advances: Why its author now objects

The House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of amending the draft to include women, despite Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California's objections. 

US Army/Reuters
US soldier Pfc. Janelle Zalkovsky provides security while other soldiers survey a newly constructed road in Ibriam Jaffes, Iraq. The US House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday passed a measure that would include women in the military draft.

A bill requiring women to register for the draft has passed a Congressional committee, but the debate is not over yet.

In fact, it is likely to become much more contentious. The author of an amendment that would include women in the draft voted against his own measure, saying he wants to spur debate about which branch of government should make these decisions.

"I think [Congress] should make this decision," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, according to the Associated Press. "It's the families that we represent who are affected by this."

Representative Hunter, a retired Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the Pentagon's December decision to permit women to fight in combat roles was executive overreach. In sponsoring the amendment, he hoped to draw attention to the unilateral move and suggest that Congress should be more responsive to the will of American families than the Pentagon.

The measure passed the House Armed Services Committee 32-30 on Wednesday. The debate revealed a split in thinking about the issue, as many who voted to include women did so more as a symbolic move for women's equality than as a military tactic.

"I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D) of California, according to the AP.

This represents the reasoning of many American women who say the draft is only fair.

"I think it would be more equal," Dorothy White, a Ph. D. student at George Washington University in Washington, told the Monitor last December. She said allowing women to opt out of the draft "maintains this idea that women are inherently different than men – that men should be the ones doing X and women should be doing Y."

Hunter, however, based his argument against drafting women on graphic descriptions of combat as he tried to persuade fellow legislators to oppose his amendment.

"A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill," Hunter said. "The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies' throats out and kill them."

Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona (R), a retired fighter pilot in the Air Force, disagreed with Hunter, saying draftees could fill a variety of roles in the nation's military. Either way, a military draft would be politically unpopular, as the Monitor's Anna Mulrine has reported:

In some ways, the debate is largely a symbolic one – at least for now. That’s because nobody wants the draft – not voters, who are loath to see their children called into battle; not politicians, who would be more accountable to vocal constituents; and especially not the Pentagon, which prefers the all volunteer force put into place after Vietnam, when US military ranks were rife with people who didn’t want to fight. 

But it’s by no means inconceivable that a future war could require a draft, and that women could become a part of that calculus.

A large number of Americans might entertain Hunter's amendment, even if he does not. A 2013 poll by Florida-based and the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research firm showed 59 percent of Americans think women should register for the draft, with 61 percent of women in favor and only 57 percent of men. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story included an incorrect statistic that has been corrected.]

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