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Women and the Draft: They’re Divided Over Registration

Senate recently passed bill that would require both sexes to register

With Congress lined up for a battle over whether women should be required to register for the draft, there’s one group that is solidly against the idea, a new poll suggests: women themselves.
Women are much less likely than men to say women should be required to register for Selective Service when they turn 18, according to a poll conducted June 18-20 by The Economist/YouGov.  Thirty-nine percent of women supported registration for women, compared to 61 percent of men.
The question is largely theoretical since the United States ended the draft in 1973 as the Vietnam War was winding down. Men have been required since 1980 to register when they turn 18. Draft eligibility expires at 26.

But the question has come to signify a deeper discussion about gender equality in the military, and it took on new weight last week when the Senate approved a military policy bill that, for the first time, would require women to register. The legislation will now have to be reconciled with the House version, which would require only a study on the draft issue.  

Polling experts cautioned that feminists have frequently argued against the draft in general, and that women are historically less hawkish than men.

Both issues could explain some of the gender division on the question of the draft in this poll, which asked only whether women should be required to register, whether they should be allowed to serve in combat units and whether allowing them to serve in combat roles would open more opportunities for women in the military.
The Pentagon this year opened combat roles for women.

Without follow-up questions asking if respondents were against the draft in general — or just against women participating — it is difficult to come to conclusions about the gender divide, said Ilya Somin, a George Mason University law professor whose research focuses on constitutional law, property law and popular political participation. 

 “The better solution is not have draft registration at all, then we get rid of the sex discrimination and we get rid of the infringement on people’s personal liberty,” he said.

Kate Germano, Chief operating officer for the Service Women’s Action Netowork, said similar polls attempting to determine public opinion on the draft have found differences based on the age or demographics of the respondents. She welcomed the debate in Congress.

“Requiring women to register for the draft, if it is indeed necessary, represents that last hurdle being cleared for women being perceived as equal in the military,” she said.

Male and female lawmakers in both bodies have expressed support for universal conscription. They include Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam prisoner of war who noted last week that the provision was supported by all the female members of the Senate panel.

But the idea has riled conservatives in both bodies.

Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, said last week that he voted against the entire policy bill because of it.  

“Despite the many laudable objectives in this bill, I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat,” Cruz said.

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