The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to require women to register for the military draft, making the change one step closer to becoming law after senators endorsed the move this summer.
During late night deliberations on the committee's annual defense policy bill, lawmakers voted 35-24 to adopt an amendment from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) to expand registration for the Selective Service System beyond men.
The move caps off a contentious debate and could stir up conservative opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes defense spending and lays out military policy.
Several Republicans broke ranks to help Democrats to adopt the amendment.
Calls to broaden the pool for a potential draft to all Americans, not just men, have grown as the Pentagon opened all military combat roles to women in 2015. Advocates of the change also contend the current system is discriminatory.
"It's past time," said Houlahan, an Air Force veteran. "Women make up over 50 percent of our population, and not including them in the Selective Service is not only a disservice to these women, but also to our nation as a whole."
If the provision remains in the defense bill and passes on the House floor, the change has a high chance of becoming law. The Senate Armed Services Committee adopted a similar provision in its defense bill, which awaits a floor vote.
Current law requires that American men register for the Selective Service when they turn 18, though there hasn't been a military draft in more than four decades. The law, however, remains on the books should the U.S. need to conscript men into the service in a time of war.
One Republican supporter, Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a former Army Green Beret, warned that the military would need a much broader pool of recruits in the event of "a national emergency so grave" that it requires a draft.
"If it's so grave that we have to go to a draft, we need everybody," Waltz said. "We need man, woman, gay, straight, any religion, Black, white, brown. We need everybody, all hands on deck."
Despite bipartisan support, conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups have nonetheless assailed efforts to expand the draft to include women.
"We don't need to draft women in order for women to have equality in this nation," said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.). "Women are of worth and of value right now and we are equal with men without having to pass a new law that would require 50 percent of this country — our daughters and our sisters and our wives — to have to be drafted."
The Senate Armed Services Committee in July approved in a bipartisan vote a similar expansion of the draft. The change, offered by Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.), fired up conservative senators, though the bill still passed out of the committee with a wide bipartisan vote.
The full Senate is slated to debate the defense bill this fall.
An independent commission tasked by Congress with examining military and public service recommended requiring women to register for Selective Service last year, among other changes.
Several lawsuits have challenged the current law, alleging it's discriminatory and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court declined to hear a suit brought by the National Coalition for Men challenging the male-only draft in June.
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