Women may be required to register for the draft as soon as 2018.
The Senate on Tuesday voted 85 to13 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision requiring women who turn 18 after January 2018 to sign up for the draft. The New York Times reported that not registering could stop women from being able to access federal aid such as Pell grants.
The provision–supported by both Republicans and Democrats– would be a major step forward for women’s participation in the military, the next frontier after women fought to serve in combat roles.
However, differences with the House of Representatives over the issue could bring Congress to a standstill and stall the appropriations process. The House had originally included the provision in their underlying military spending bill after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced it to make a point against women serving in combat roles (he never supported it). It passed in the committee, but the provision was stripped out of the bill by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) in the House Rules Committee before it went to the floor.
“I regretfully introduce this amendment,” Hunter said at the time he introduced it. “My daughters talk about serving. My son talks about serving, but I don’t want to put my daughters in a place where they have to get drafted.”
Many of the top Republicans in the Senate supported extending the draft to women, arguing it was just the next way to expand opportunities for women in the military. Both Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been on the record in support.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), on the other hand, railed against the provision and ultimately voted against the underlying military spending bill.
“It is being used as a vehicle to further agendas that have nothing to do with actually defending America,” Cruz said in a statement following the vote. “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.”
The House and the Senate will debate how to move forward with the legislation in conference committee, but experts have said that the change is coming one way or another.
“I think the change is inevitable,” Nora Bensahel, a military policy analyst at American University’s School of International Service told the New York Times. “Whether in this debate or through the courts. It just seems that now that you have women allowed to serve in any position in the military, there is no logical basis to say women should not be drafted.”