US may force women to register for military
America looks set to force teenage girls to register for the military draft, sparking a fierce row over gender equality.
The decision was approved in private by the US Senate armed services committee and would require anyone aged 18 to 25, of either gender, to make themselves available for call-up in a potential future large-scale war.
There has not been a military draft in the US since the Vietnam War, and senior Pentagon officials are opposed to ever having one again.
However, by law, young men still have to register for the draft, known as the Selective Service System, when they turn 18.
If they do not, they can be penalised; for example by losing access to financial aid schemes for college.
The committee of Democrats and Republicans approved changing the 1948 Military Selective Service Act to drop the word "male".
Five Republican senators opposed the move.
An amendment making the change was part of a massive defence spending bill which still has to pass the full Congress, where Democrats control both chambers.
Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who voted against conscripting young women, said: "Our military has welcomed women for decades and are stronger for it.
"But America’s daughters shouldn’t be drafted against their will.
"I opposed this amendment in the committee, and I’ll work to remove it before the defence bill passes.”
Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri who also voted against, said: "Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong, and so do I.
"It’s one thing to allow American women to choose this service, but it’s quite another to force it upon our daughters, sisters, and wives."
The US military lifted its ban on women serving in combat roles in 2013.
A National Commission on Military, National and Public Service was later set up to look at whether the draft should be extended to women.
It concluded last year that doing so would be "a necessary and fair step" and "make it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency".
Following the Senate committee vote, Russ Vought, a former senior official in Donald Trump's administration, said: "No, you are not drafting our daughters."
Nearly two million American men were drafted between 1964 and 1973.
A Senate official close to the committee told ABC News: "This isn't our grandfather's military. It's a different world.
"If we're going to have a draft then women have to be involved. You can't fight with one hand tied behind your back."
Asked about the issue last year, Joe Biden said: "The United States does not need a larger military, and we don’t need a draft at this time.
"I would, however, ensure that women are also eligible to register for the Selective Service System so that men and women are treated equally in the event of future conflicts."
Last month the US Supreme Court declined to rule on the issue, saying it expected Congress to do so soon.
Ria Tabacco Mar, director of women's rights at the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "The requirement that only men, but not women, register for the draft is one of the last examples of overt sex discrimination written into our federal law.
"Like many laws that appear to benefit women, men-only registration actually impedes women’s full participation in civic life.
"It reflects an outmoded view that, in the event of a draft, women’s primary duty would be to the home front."