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The Story

Congress appears poised to force young women to register for the military draft.

The Background

A group of Senate Democrats is proposing a rewrite of the military draft laws to require that women register for the Selective Service System. The “draft” is the commonly used term for mandatory military conscription. This is a means of fulfilling the personnel requirements of the military during a time of conflict.

The language proposed by Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) would expand registration for the service to “All Americans.” According to POLITICO, the changes to Selective Service could be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, a defense policy bill that’s one of the few pieces of legislation considered a “must-pass” by Congress.

Current law states that U.S. men must register for the service for potential military conscription when they turn 18. Men who fail to register for the draft can be fined, imprisoned, or denied federal jobs.

In the United States, the draft has been employed by the federal government in four conflicts: the Civil War; World War I; World War II; and the Cold War (including the Korean and Vietnam Wars). From 1940 until 1973, both in war and peacetime, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces. The draft ended when the United States military moved to an all-volunteer military force in 1973. When President Jimmy Carter restored draft registration in 1980, he asked Congress to include women but was rebuffed.

That same year, several men brought a federal lawsuit claiming the sex-based discrimination of the draft violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. In that case, Rostker v. Goldberg (1981), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, ruling that there was no violation of the due process clause. The Supreme Court based its decision largely on the Department of Defense’s policy excluding women from combat. “Men and women, because of the combat restrictions on women, are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,” the court’s majority opinion said.

The issue was considered again in 1992, 1994, and 1998, but rejected each time because the policy excluding women from combat roles remained in place. Starting in 2016, however, the Defense Department lifted all sex-based restrictions on military service. This removed the primary legal barrier that excluded women from having to register with the Selective Service.

In 2016, the two most senior military leaders in the Army and Marine Corps testified before Congress that women should be required to register for the draft now that the Pentagon had opened all combat roles to them. The Armed Services Committee (including Republican Senators John McCain, Deb Fischer, Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, Dan Sullivan, and Lindsey Graham) supported extending registration to women. A congressionally mandated commission recommend in 2020 that women be eligible for the draft. “This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified Nation in a time of national emergency,” the commission said in its report.

Why It Matters

Within evangelicalism there is a deep division about whether sex-based roles are part of God’s creational norms or solely cultural constructs imposed by society. While this debate often centers on roles within marriage and the church, it sometimes spills over into the secular realm. The issue of women and draft is a primary example.

Not all Christians will agree, of course, but complementarians and other traditionalists will have serious reservations about the wisdom of allowing women in combat. Even some of those who hold an egalitarian view of ecclesiological issues may not think it is prudent for our sisters and daughters to join our sons and brothers on the front lines of the battlefield.

Throughout history, most men and women—and even children—have recognized the wisdom of not sending our mothers, daughters, and sisters to the battlefield. The pattern in the Bible is that when combat is necessary it is men, not women, who bear the responsibility to participate in warfare (Gen. 14:14; Num. 31:3, 21, 49; Deut. 20:5–9,13–14; Josh. 1:14–18, 6:3, 7, 9; 8:3; 10:7; 1 Sam. 16:18; 18:5; 2 Sam. 11:1; 17:8; 23:8–39; Ps. 45:3–5; Song 3:7–8; Isa. 42:13).

Forcing women into this role will not lead to more freedom but rather to less equality, more violence toward women, and a general degradation of humanity.

Forcing women to be drafted into combat is likely to lead to reduced military effectiveness and an increase in unnecessary casualties. To justify allowing women in combat roles, the military has resorted to judging female military applicants, recruits, and service members by less stringent standards than their male counterparts.

“Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?” Katie Petronio asks in “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal,” an article for the Marine Corps Gazette. She answers no, and points out that “we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.” Marine infantry veteran Mackubin Thomas Owens adds:

The average female soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine is about five inches shorter than her male counterpart and has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity (at her physical peak between the ages of 20 and 30, the average woman has the aerobic capacity of a 50-year-old male), and 37 percent less muscle mass. She has a lighter skeleton, which means that the physical strain on her body from carrying the heavy loads that are the lot of the infantryman may cause permanent damage.

Many women are physically unable to perform even the most basic of combat tasks. For example, comprehensive tests in 1987 and 1990 at Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island found that 45 percent of female Marines could not throw a live grenade safely beyond the 15-meter bursting radius.

When the Creator made us “male and female,” he intended some distinctions in roles, and shaped our bodies accordingly. Men, for example, were created to be self-sacrificial protectors of the family and, by extension, of the nation. Forcing women into that role will not lead to more freedom but rather to less equality, more violence toward women, and a general degradation of humanity. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, battles are ugly when women fight. Societies that send their women off to war are even uglier.