Women And The Draft Now that no jobs in the military are off-limits to women, a federal judge has declared mandatory male-only draft registration to be unconstitutional. Should women now be required to register as well?
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Women And The Draft

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Women And The Draft

Women And The Draft

Women And The Draft

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Now that no jobs in the military are off-limits to women, a federal judge has declared mandatory male-only draft registration to be unconstitutional. Should women now be required to register as well?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A question that's been out there ever since President Obama opened up every job in the military to women - the draft - should women now be required to sign up for it? A federal judge has ruled that requiring only men to register with selective service is unconstitutional. The government's appealing that decision and drafting women is now being considered by a congressional blue-ribbon commission. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The Pentagon's top brass have made clear they're on board with requiring women to sign up for a draft. Here's Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley when asked about that at the Senate Armed Services hearing three years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

MARK MILLEY: Senator, I think that all eligible and qualified men and women should register for the draft.

WELNA: The Marine Corps commandant also agreed. And what does Congress do? It sets up a commission to study the matter.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

JOE HECK: Purpose of this hearing is to address an important question. Should selective service registration be expanded to include all Americans?

WELNA: That's former Republican Congressman Joe Heck. He chairs the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. It's to advise Congress next year on whether women should have to sign up for a draft. At its first public hearing on the matter here in Washington this week, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Mark Coppenger is the first to speak on a panel of ardent opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

MARK COPPENGER: Drafting women, registering from the draft is forcing things. And it goes contrary, I would say, to the order of nature.

WELNA: Women in the military, according to former Marine and Iraq war veteran Jude Eden, are wounded up to 10 times more often than men are.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

JUDE EDEN: Very fit women on military standards are injured at such higher rates. Drafting civilian women would mean even higher turnover, diminished combat effectiveness, more casualties and fewer of both men and women coming home alive.

WELNA: And conservative author Ashley McGuire worries that, like society as a whole, the military is drifting, as she puts it, in a genderless direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

ASHLEY MCGUIRE: The push to expand the selective service strikes me as yet another manifestation of the belief that women are only equal with men if we do exactly as men do.

WELNA: Then proponents of women signing up for the draft have their say. Katey Van Dam is a former Marine combat helicopter pilot. She tells the panel women now outnumber men in higher education and have many of the skills the military needs.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

KATEY VAN DAM: To absolutely ignore over half the talent pool of over half the population, it seems ill-advised - is the kindest way I can think to put it.

WELNA: For a University of Minnesota Law Professor Jill Hasday, excluding women from selective service registration is a clear case of sex discrimination.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

JILL HASDAY: Even if the average man is more likely than the average woman to meet the physical strength requirements for a particular combat position, some women will meet those qualifications as well and should not be excluded simply because they are women.

WELNA: That exclusion sends a bad message, says retired Army general Flora Darpino.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

FLORA DARPINO: And so as long as you're going to have folks register, it has to be both genders because, if you do otherwise, you are sending a message that they're not equal citizens.

WELNA: One panelist has a radically different remedy. Diane Randall is an anti-war activist who heads the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

DIANE RANDALL: The answer is not to require women to register but to end the requirement for selective service registration.

WELNA: One way or another, says law professor Hasday, the law will be changed.

HASDAY: I would say the best outcome would be if Congress did it because that reflects more of a national conversation from our democratically elected leaders. But if Congress doesn't act soon, this case is coming to the Supreme Court in the next few years. It's simply inevitable.

WELNA: And unlike whatever this commission ends up recommending to Congress, a high court decision would be binding. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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