Congress again backs away from expanding draft registration (or abolishing draft altogether)
U.S. Military recruits are sworn in during a football halftime show, Nov. 6, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

For the third time in the last six years, proposals to expand the current Selective Service registration requirement to include young women as well as young men were included in versions of this year’s annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023, but were removed in back-room House-Senate leadership negotiations.

All mention of Selective Service has been removed from the conference proposal for the FY2023 NDAA introduced Tuesday in the House Rules Committee.

As in 2016 and 2021, this year’s proposals to expand Selective Service registration to women were bundled into 2,000-page drafts of the NDAA without any hearings or floor debate in either the House or Senate, and without any consideration of the alternative bipartisan proposal—which has yet to receive a hearing or floor consideration in either the House or Senate—to repeal the Military Selective Service Act and end draft registration entirely.

Again this year, as in 2016 and 2021, these provisions were removed from the final draft negotiated by House and Senate leaders and presented to both chambers Tuesday for take-it-or-leave-it final approval.

Some other changes may be made to the latest draft of the FY 2023 NDAA before it is approved, but it seems highly unlikely that provisions to expand (or to end) Selective Service registration will be reinserted into this bill.

This doesn’t mean that debate about what to do about draft registration is over. Indeed, Congress has never really begun to debate the issue. This means only that Congress has, yet again, avoided facing up to the reality that, whether they like it or not, draft registration is an abject failure.

Expanding draft registration to women is still a bad idea that won’t go away until Congress ends draft registration entirely.

Congress has punted again, as it did in 2016 and 2021, but the ball is still in play. This issue could be raised during consideration of the annual NDAA, or—preferably, through freestanding legislation that would allow more in-depth consideration and debate—next year, or the year after that, or 10 or 20 years from now.

The future of Congressional consideration of draft registration is especially uncertain because both the lead advocate for expanding draft registration to women, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and the lead House Democratic sponsor of the Selective Service Repeal Act, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chose not to run for re-election this year. This makes it critically important to urge other members of Congress to take up the lead in reintroducing and co-sponsoring the Selective Service Repeal Act in 2023.

More anti-war feminists are speaking up for an end to Selective Service, further undermining the bogus claim that preparation for larger, longer, more unpopular wars than people would be willing to fight is somehow a feminist policy. Notably, this year the National Organization for Women joined the many other endorsers of the Selective Service Repeal Act.

For now, unless and until Congress changes the law, all male (as assigned at birth) U.S. residents are still required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and report within 10 days every time they change their address until their 26th birthday—although few do. Draft boards continue to be appointed to administer a possible draft.

The Selective Service System has managed to evade meaningful scrutiny of its purpose or fitness for purpose throughout forty years of failure since it was brought out of “deep standby” in 1980. In the absence of a movement for abolition of the Selective Service System, it could keep going for another 40 years on institutional inertia and Congressional reluctance to throw in the towel and admit defeat in the face of quiet but pervasive and persistent popular disregard for the law.

U.S. war planners assume that a draft is always available as a fallback. Ending Selective Service registration and contingency planning and preparation for a draft would help rein in planning for endless, unlimited, unpopular wars. But that isn’t likely to happen unless the failure of draft registration becomes more widely recognized, and unless Congress sees more visible signs that young women will resist any attempt to expand draft registration, and older people will support them in their resistance.

Many of us in the older generation of draft resisters and anti-war activists remain confident that young women will resist draft registration, as young men have done for decades. It’s up to us to educate, agitate, and amplify their resistance.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Edward Hasbrouck
Edward Hasbrouck

Edward Hasbrouck is a member of the Authors’ Rights Expert Group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a member of the National Writers Union, and a consultant to The Identity Project on travel-related human rights and civil liberties issues. He is the author of The Practical Nomad travel book series. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.