When Will Women Be Drafted for War? — When Congress Says So

Photograph by Adek Berry/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Marines 2nd Batallion, 1st Marines Regiment with Female Engagement Team Sargeant Savanna E. Malendoski, center, and Sargeant Patricia A. Aquino, left, talk to Afghan villagers during a visit to a village in Gamser, Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.

So women will go to war.

But when will they be drafted?

The Defense Department’s decision to lift the ban against women on the front lines of combat leaves open the question of the draft.

Men were drafted for the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, when the draft ended.

Still, it was Congress, with the passage of a new Selective Service act in 1980 — at President Jimmy Carter’s direction, looking at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan — that shaped the modern law requiring young men to register for the draft, in the event of a need.

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 in 1981 against a challenge by men claiming discrimination under the law.

As the Pentagon works in the coming few years to determine which combat roles will be open to women, and what the standards will be, it will not be the Pentagon that decides if women are to be added to the draft rolls. It will be Congress, says Larry Romo, 12th director of the Selective Service System, in an interview with National Public Radio.

“Congress and the president can either continue the military selective service as is, or they can pass a new law,” he says.

As it stands, 92 percent of men under 25 comply with the law and register with the draft.

Asked how much preparation he had for this issue, he said something interesting about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women in combat.

“We actually didn’t find anything out until I read about in the media,” the draft director said — though he has told the Pentagon that he stands ready to provide any information, while noting that Defense has until 2016 to approve final details of its deployment of women.

Congress? They have all the time they want.

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