Congress weighs adding women to the US military draft

  • Congress is debating reforms to the military draft system.

  • A Senate proposal — if it became law — would force some women to register for the draft.

  • US military recruitment fell short by 41,000 recruits in 2023, reflecting ongoing challenges.

The US military is having a harder time getting Americans to join the armed forces, so Congress is weighing some options — including making women eligible for the draft.

On June 14, the House of Representatives passed an annual defense policy bill that contained a bipartisan proposal to expand the maximum age of the draft — which the US last used in 1973 to bring men into the armed forces during the Vietnam War era — from 25 to 26. Currently, most US men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service.

The same day, the Senate approved a bill that — if it became law— would force women to register for the draft.

The House and Senate proposals have little chance of becoming law, in part because some Republicans aren't on board, The New York Times reported. But as the US military continues to face recruitment challenges — and geopolitical risks persist across the globe — Congress could continue to weigh reforms to the US draft system, in addition to other changes that could boost the number of active service members.

In 2023, the US military collectively fell short of its recruiting goals by roughly 41,000 recruits. A Pew Research poll conducted in January found that 43% of US adults between the ages of 18 and 29 had a positive view of the US military.

The congressional debate about whether women should be included in the draft dates back to at least 2020, when a group of military experts recommended that Congress enact this measure. The debate comes as the US military has taken some steps over the past decade to improve equality in the armed forces. As of 2016, women have been able to hold every military position.

Not everyone in Congress is on board with the proposal to include women in the draft.

"We need to get reality back in check here," Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, said on Fox News. "There shouldn't be women in the draft. They shouldn't be forced to serve if they don't want to."

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