Will Women in Combat Mean Selective Service is Next?

By Caralee J. Adams — February 04, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

If women are allowed in military combat positions, will they be subject to the draft and required to register to get student financial aid?

Not yet.

“Even though the Secretary of Defense has decided to allow women in combat jobs, the law has not been changed to include this. Consequently, only men are currently required to register by law with Selective Service during ages 18 thru 25. Women still do not register,” according to a Jan. 24 posting on the U.S. Selective Service System website.

Men who are between 18 and 26 must register for the Selective Service if they want to receive any federal financial aid. It’s part of the process of filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid . Students must submit the FAFSA every year they want aid, so even if it isn’t an issue for a young high school senior, it will likely be a requirement during the student’s freshmen year in college.

Before women would be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to change the law that now specifically mandates “male persons” to register.

The compliance rate for Selective Service registration is about 92 percent, according to Larry Romo, director of the Selective Service System.

On Jan. 24 the Department of Defense announced it would rescind the rule that excluded women from combat posts. Women now make up 15 percent of the active military personnel. With the new move, the Department will submit a report by May outlining how that would affect the military Selective Service Act. On National Public Radio recently, Romo was asked if there he sensed any momentum for a change in the law to include women. With the Defense Department having until 2016 to implement these changes, he said: “I don’t see a sudden rush to do this.”

Yet, some military women’s groups are coming out in favor of changing the law, including the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), representing service women and veterans.

“SWAN advocates for the inclusion of women into selective service. Lifting the ban on women officially serving in combat is about giving qualified women the opportunity to serve and making our military stronger, and that would include having women register for selective service,” according to a statement by Anu Bhagwati, executive director of SWAN and a former U.S. Marine Corps Captain.

Cassaundra St. John, who leads F7, a group that supports female veterans and women in military families, said if women are asking for equality across the board, that would have to include registering for the Selective Service. “We can’t have our cake and eat it too. That’s not fair,” she said from her Austin, Texas, office Feb. 4. “Every American citizen should have some kind of obligation to their country. If we want that right, we should have the responsibility. That responsibility belongs to all of us.”

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the bigger policy question is whether collecting information about Selective Service registration should be a part of the FAFSA, as it has since the early 1980s.

“It’s another layer of complexity and burden that does not need to be there,” says Draeger. In the spirit of streamlining the application process, NASFAA has long advocated for Selective Service and other questions to be removed from the FAFSA so administrators can focus on the central issue of financial need, he said.

Men who fail to register with Selective Service before turning age 26, even if not prosecuted, are also ineligible for federal job training and federal jobs.

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Rostker v. Goldberg, held that registering only men did not violate the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. Again, in 1994, the issue of women and the draft was reviewed — this time by the U.S. Department of Defense, which determined that because women were excluded by policy from front-line combat positions, excluding them from the draft process was justified. The Defense Department did acknowledge that the policy should be reviewed periodically as the role of women in the military would likely expand, the Selective Service notes.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.