This Week in History on Feb. 19, 1981, Staff Writer LuAnn Larson wrote on the then-ongoing debate of allowing women the right to register for the Selective Service, as well as the course of action taken by former president Jimmy Carter. She also talked about the influence and push that the registration process was receiving from the president’s administration and the general public.
Former President Jimmy Carter, in his State of the Union address, on January 23, 1980, announced his intention to reinstitute draft registration and to revitalize the Selective Service System. Carter was attempting to send a signal to Russia in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He indicated that males would register, and there was a possibility of females being included.
From that moment on, the “war” was on and the battle has continued since. Controversy surrounds the subject: “Should women be required to register?”; “What happens if I don’t sign up?”; or “Who cares, I don’t want to get killed.” All of these questions have been asked since Carter announced his plan one year ago.
What does the future hold? The Reagan administration has made no decision about retaining or abolishing registration. Since Carter made the announcement, there has been action on both sides of the subject. But how many people really know all the facts concerning registration?
In February 1980, the Carter administration sent a study to Congress to authorize the registration of women. He also asked for 20.5 million dollars for appropriation to conduct registration.
The plan was to register persons 19 and 20 years of age in 1980 and persons who would turn 19 in 1981, with continuous registration of those who were 18 at the time of their birthday.
Later in the month, a report surfaced saying the Selective Service sent a report to Carter declaring peacetime registration unnecessary. The controversy continued.
March brought bad news to Carter as the House Armed Services Subcommittee tabled the request to draft women. Also, 30,000 conscientious objectors marched in protest against draft registration.
House members approved registration 218-188 on April 22. The Senate appropriated draft registration on June 12, 58-34. Alloted for registration fees was $13.3 million.
On July 2, the president issued a proclamation ordering all men, 19 and 20, to register.
During these months, the presidential campaign was surging forward. Ronald Reagan repeatedly opposed peacetime registration. But after he was elected to head the country, Reagan began backing off his campaign promise to end draft registration. Several senators, especially Mark O. Hatfield, Republican from Oregon, were pushing Reagan before he became president to cancel registration.
On November 17, when Hatfield and Reagan discussed the subject, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson made the following observation, “The Reagan planners told my staff that they haven’t had time yet to review the question of draft registration. But since Reagan made such an issue of abolishing the draft, it’s hard to believe that his advisors need to review it. Insiders suspect that simply by ignoring the problem Reagan has made a decision–to keep the draft.”
Most of the campus student body is probably wondering what Reagan is planning to do since registration affects a sizable number at Hastings College. The answer, however, is unclear. Reagan could “kill” the draft at any time with an executive order. Former President Gerald Ford did this in 1975.
Aids working with the president contend that the best course is for Reagan to do nothing about the draft for several months. This will give the Supreme Court time to rule on the constitutionality of males-only registration.
Foreign leaders, including Germany’s Helmut Schmidt and Israel’s Menachem Begin, have urged Reagan to scrap the all-volunteer force. Several of the president’s advisors wish he would take this advice.
A strong debate has been created over the question of drafting women. Several “new rights” groups are planning to campaign to create a strong public mood against the registration of women. The battle could be a long, drawn-out process.
Ever since Former President Carter first introduced legislation on the subject, there has been a continuing debate spreading through the country. There are so many questions that no one seems to have the answer to.
For or against, registration is something that must be complied with—at least for a while.