Before you read any further, do the following facial exercise. Stick your tongue out a bit and press on it lightly with your top and bottom teeth. This will enable you to quickly bite your tongue when you are tempted to blurt out: "I told you so!"

Now for the news.

For the past many years, anti-ERA forces have gone about warning America that if we passed this constitutional amendment our daughters would be eligible for the draft. Any woman who wanted equal rights, they said darkly, was asking for war.

Well, Greetings from Uncle Sam. Months after the defeat of the ERA, the Department of Defense has a proposal that will make women eligible for the draft for the first time in American history.


The proposal, which has barely been noticed, is part of the plan to begin registering medical people again. Not medical men--medical people.

To put it plainly, the DoD would like to amend the old "Doctor's Draft" codes by, and I quote, "striking out 'males' and inserting in place thereof 'persons.'" Among the "persons" are female doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, podiatrists, veterinarians and "any other ancillary or technical" health-care worker between the ages of 181/2 and 46.

How did this happen, you ask, without the ERA? Excuse me for a moment while I take another nip of my tongue.

There never was any guarantee that women wouldn't be drafted. The recent Supreme Court decision gave constitutional approval to an all-male draft. But it didn't outlaw a coed draft. It left the whole business up to Congress.

The armed services, meanwhile, have been what might generously be called ambivalent toward women in their ranks. There are those like retired Gen. William Westmoreland, who feels "no man with gumption wants a woman to fight his battles." There are also those like Brig. Gen. Cecil Neely, who says that his men "think the women are pretty; they like to have them around."

Since the defeat of the ERA, the Pentagon has hacked away at the rights of those women who actually want to be part of the military. It ended coed basic training, reduced the number of female volunteers it will accept, and made 23 more jobs off-limits.

It will add no more than 1,000 women a year in the next five years. These women will no longer be allowed to become carpenters, masons, electricians or engineers because, we are told, those jobs are "combat-related."

At the same time, it is now asking for the right to draft women who don't want to be part of the military. Lt. Col. Tom Schumann, the department director for health manpower, says frankly, "To us, it's just a need. When you consider that many of the health-care occupations are composed primarily of females, you're not going to get the numbers you need if you can't go after the females."

When asked whether there wasn't some contradiction in this policy, in view of anti-ERA arguments, Schumann chuckled in the friendliest way.

Several other folks at DoD made a special distinction. Nurses, they said, were not in combat roles. They should tell this to the Army and Navy nurses of other wars, especially 100 nurses who were prisoners of war for three years during World War II, or the female veterans of Vietnam.

This proposal for the medical draft was brought before professional organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association in January. The nursing association is planning to take a stand sometime next week.

If all goes according to plan, the medical draft will be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget at the end of April and then submitted to Congress as part of the defense legislative package.

It would be ironic if the Reagan administration--hostile to the E and the R and the A--were the first to get a law passed that forced women to register for the draft. Who was it who said that women would get equal responsibilities before they got equal rights?

Not me. And I've got the teeth marks on my tongue to prove it.

Copyright (c) 1983, The Boston Globe Newspaper Company