WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s top civilian official said Friday she supports requiring young women to register for a potential military draft as Congress heads toward a divisive debate over whether to erase gender restrictions from Selective Service.

Air Force Secretary Deborah James said there’s no reason women shouldn’t have to sign up just as men between the ages of 18 and 25 do. Women have never before been required to register in the United States and including them in a draft pool has outraged social conservatives.

“My opinion as an American is that we should have a Selective Service,” James said during the taping of an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “It’s an insurance policy for the United States and I think women should register just as I think young men should register.”

The annual defense policy bill the Senate is scheduled to consider next week includes a draft registration requirement for women. The provision calls for females to sign up with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18 – just as men do – beginning in January 2018.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said they will fight to have the provision removed from the bill. They said far more research is required before such a significant change is made.

Republicans stripped a provision requiring women to register from the House’s version of the defense policy bill. They replaced it with a measure to study whether the Selective Service is even needed at a time when the armed forces get plenty of qualified volunteers, making the possibility of a draft remote.

However, opponents of expanding the draft may be unable to halt the momentum in favor of lifting the exclusion, which was triggered by the Pentagon’s decision late last year to open all front-line combat jobs to women. After gender restrictions to military service were erased, the top uniformed officers in each of the military branches expressed support during congressional testimony for including women in a potential draft.

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