House Appropriations Committee Approves Abortion Coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers

In passing an amendment offered by Rep. Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Committee follows Senate’s lead and grants Peace Corps Volunteers abortion coverage in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest

(PRESS RELEASE) Today the House Committee on Appropriations voted to allow equal health care coverage for women in the Peace Corps seeking abortion care in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest—a budgetary fix also adopted by the Senate that would provide Peace Corps Volunteers with the same coverage available to federal employees, women receiving health care assistance through Medicaid, and military servicewomen.

In an effort to ensure the policy was changed in the upcoming fiscal year, House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) called for an amendment to the bill that would specifically allow Peace Corps Volunteers health care coverage in these limited circumstance. The measure, which was ultimately passed by the committee, was described by Rep. Lowey as “the right thing to do and long overdue.”

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its appropriations legislation with language that would finally permit Peace Corps Volunteers equal health care coverage for abortion services. President Barack Obama also included the budgetary fix in his annual budget proposal for FY2015. The appropriations bills advanced by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, including this bipartisan language, must now be approved by the full House and Senate before being sent for President Obama’s signature.  

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today, the House took an historic step to ensure Peace Corps Volunteers—who make great sacrifices as ambassadors for the U.S. overseas to help others in need—get the essential health care coverage from the country they serve in their own moments of need.

“With today’s vote, no longer will women in the Peace Corps be denied coverage for abortion care after they’ve been raped or when they face life-threatening pregnancy complications. And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources.

“We applaud Congress for finally doing the right thing and standing behind the women who have stood up for our country.”

Rep. Lowey is also the lead sponsor of the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2014 (H.R. 4578)—a standalone federal bill that would permanently fix the long-standing discriminatory federal policy against abortion coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version (S. 2291).

A recent study documented more than a dozen women’s personal experiences with abortion while serving in the Peace Corps—from the time before the discriminatory federal ban was put in place in the late 1970s through 2013. The study’s authors concluded that “lifting the federal restrictions on abortion coverage in cases of rape, whether through the appropriations process or a stand-alone bill, would be consistent with this overarching effort to respond better to the needs of sexual assault survivors serving in the Peace Corps.” Over 97 percent of the study’s participants supported efforts to extend health care coverage in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest.

Peace Corps Volunteers—of which more than 60 percent are women–are only paid a monthly stipend of $250-$300, typically less than the cost of a first-trimester abortion.