In welcome news for the holiday season, the final version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) came with a couple of unexpected gifts.

After months of debate and negotiations, the final version of the FY23 NDAA – which must be passed annually and provides funding and authorization for our nation’s six military branches – ended the military’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for our country’s servicemembers.

In addition, congressional negotiators removed a provision from the final version of the NDAA that would have required women to register for the selective service system (the draft).

The bill spends a whopping $857.9 billion which includes the following:

  • $816.7 billion for the Department of Defense
  • $30.3 billion for the Department of Energy
  • $10.6 billion for Defense-related activities outside of the NDAA jurisdiction.

The NDAA (H.R. 7776) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, in a bipartisan 350-80 vote, while the bill subsequently passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 83-11 on December 15.

President Joe Biden signed the bill into law two days before Christmas on December 23.

Analysis provided by The Heritage Foundation found that the NDAA’s bipartisan agreement to lift the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate was “prudent when military recruiting is facing historic challenges.”

However, Heritage notes that the NDAA does not help any servicemember who has already been dismissed by refusing to get a COVID shot. The bill does not reinstate these servicemembers, nor does it provide them with any backpay, as several members of Congress had advocated for.

As of early December, the U.S. Army alone had kicked out 1,841 soldiers for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In particular, the military’s vaccine mandate was frequently used to discriminate against servicemembers whose religious convictions prevented them from receiving the shots. Repeatedly, the various military branches promptly denied any requests for religious exemptions from the mandate, while quickly granting requests for medical exemptions.

Regarding the provision that had required young women to register for the draft – it was also removed from the final version of the bill.

“The final NDAA does not include the Senate provision expanding the Selective Service to require that women register for it,” the Heritage Foundation notes. “This is a conservative win. Requiring women to register for the draft would be a misguided expansion.

For two years now, Congress has tried to force women to register for the draft – first in the FY22 NDAA and then in this year’s defense bill as well.

Both years, the provision has been removed at the last hours of negotiations to win more bipartisan support from members of Congress.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee voted in a bipartisan manner to add the provision to the FY23 NDAA. Of the 26 senators on the committee, just six voted against the proposal.

After that vote, a group of nine Republican senators introduced the “Don’t Draft Our Daughters” amendment to the FY23 NDAA.

“Forcing our daughters, mothers, wives and sisters to fight our wars is wrong,” Sen. Hawley said in a press release at the time. “We should celebrate the women who have volunteered to serve our country and thank the women who played a vital role in defending America at every point in our nation’s history. But volunteering is different than being forced to serve.”

Though that amendment never passed through Congress, it kept up pressure on Congressional negotiators, ultimately leading to the provision’s removal in the final version of the NDAA.

We can be grateful that this year’s NDAA ended an unjust and immoral regulation – the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate – while at the same time did not incorporate other poor proposals like forcibly drafting women.

However, since the NDAA is an annual funding bill, you can be reasonably sure that the fight against drafting women will have to resume with next year’s defense bill.

The independent, non-partisan public policy organization Center for Military Readiness has prepared a two-page summary explaining why the forced conscription of women is a bad idea, which you can read more about here.

Related articles and resources:

Defense Bill May End Military Vaccine Mandate With Possible Backpay for Punished Servicemembers

Senators Introduce ‘Don’t Draft Our Daughters’ Amendment to Defense Bill

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