WASHINGTON: Tennnnnn-hut, ladies! The next time Uncle Sam comes calling, he’s probably going to want you, too.
The Obama administration’s recent decision to lift the ban on women in combat has opened the door for a change in the law that currently compels only men between 18 and 25 to register for a military draft, according to legal experts and military historians.
Never before has the country drafted women into military service, and neither the administration nor Congress is in a hurry to make them register for a future call-up. But, legally, they may have no other choice.
It is only constitutional to register men for a draft, the Supreme Court ruled more than three decades ago, because the reason for registration is to create a pool of potential combat troops should a national emergency demand a rapid increase in the size of the military. Women were excluded from serving in battlefield jobs, so there was no reason to register them for possible conscription into the armed forces, the court held.
Now that front-line infantry, armor, artillery and special operations jobs are open to female volunteers who can meet the physical requirements, it will be difficult for anyone to make a persuasive argument that women should continue to be exempt from registration, said Diane Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and a former Air Force officer.
“They’re going to have to show that excluding women from the draft actually improves military readiness,” Mazur said. “I just don’t see how you can make that argument.”
Groups that backed the end of the ban on women in combat also support including women in draft registration as a matter of basic citizenship. Women should have the same civic obligations as men, said Greg Jacob, a former Marine Corps officer and policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network. “We see registration as another step forward in terms of equality and fairness,” Jacob said.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., supports draft registration for women, according to his spokeswoman. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., who heads the House Armed Services Committee, hasn’t made up his mind. McKeon said through a spokesman that he’s awaiting a Defense Department report due in the coming weeks that will assess the legal impact of lifting the ban on women in combat on draft registration.
But if you’re worried a draft notice is going to soon be in your mailbox, take a deep breath. There is no looming national crisis that makes a military draft likely.
Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, a California Air National Guard pilot who served three tours in Afghanistan, said excluding women from a draft reinforces a stereotype that they are less capable than men and need to be protected. Not every woman can handle a close combat job, she said, and neither can every man.
But they can contribute in other ways if a crisis demands their service, said Hegar, who received a Purple Heart for wounds she suffered during a mission in Afghanistan.