What’s Wrong with Registering Women for the Draft?

Reprinted from The Library of Economics and Liberty:

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a report in March recommending that Congress “eliminate male-only registration and expand draft eligibility to all individuals of the appropriate age cohort,” because “expanding draft eligibility to women will enable the military to access the most qualified individuals, regardless of sex.” Women have been eligible to occupy all combat roles since 2015.

This is from Ella Lubell, “Senate Considers Requiring Women to Register for the Draft,” Reason Hit and Run, July 22, 2021.

Lubell also points out the ACLU’s disappointing stance:

“Like many laws that appear to benefit women, men-only registration actually impedes women’s full participation in civic life,” says the ACLU on its website. “Limiting registration to men sends a message that women are unqualified to serve in the military, regardless of individual capabilities and preferences. It reflects an outmoded view that, in the event of a draft, women’s primary duty would be to the home front – and, on the flip side, that men are unqualified to be caregivers.”

This is appalling, especially coming from the ACLU, one of whose founding members, Roger Baldwin, went to prison for refusing to be drafted during World War I. Notice that the ACLU doesn’t mention rights but, instead, wants equal oppression. What would send a message to women that they are unqualified to serve would be a policy by the U.S. military that they can’t serve. But they can. The actual message that the US government is sending to women by not forcing them to register for a draft is that the government respects women’s rights. The government should also start respecting men’s rights.

Here’s what Chad Seagren and I wrote on this issue a few years ago. One excerpt:

Note the irony: feminists and their allies, in arguing for greater inclusion of a sometimes marginalized element of the population, actually seek to extend an institution that ruthlessly exploits the most marginalized segment of the population.

Women’s advocates who favor opening selective service for women are correct that doing so will result in more “equality” between the sexes. However, this is equality of oppression. It is as if, rather than argue for the total elimination of slavery in the name of freedom and equality, nineteenth-century abolitionists advocated extending slavery to whites. There is an alternative that serves both equality and freedom: end the selective service system altogether.

I do have one major disagreement with Ella Lubell. Here’s her last paragraph:

If Democrats are considering making changes to the draft, they should not exchange women’s liberty for gender equality. Rather, they should extend to men the privilege that women already enjoy.

My disagreement is with one word she uses in the second sentence of that paragraph. Can you guess the word?


I have long been a fan of Roger Baldwin, and still am. It was partly because of my admiration for him and for the ACLU’s actions defending free speech in the 1970s, that I joined the ACLU only a few weeks after getting my green card. (I had worried, probably unnecessarily that listing my membership in the ACLU would hurt my chances to immigrate.) But in researching this post, I learned something about Baldwin that I found disappointing. This is from the NYT obituary:

Under the threat of Hitlerism, he modified his views of the draft in World War II, and was among those A.C.L.U. members who opposed organizational support in the courts for draft resistance in the Vietnam conflict.

Author: David R. Henderson

David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an emeritus professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey and co-author, with Charles L. Hooper, of Making Great Decisions in Business and Life(Chicago Park Press). His latest book is The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008). He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, MSNBC, RT, Fox Business Channel, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Hill, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He blogs at http://econlog.econlib.org