Senate Committee Passes Appropriations Bill Promoting Equal Health Coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers

Center for Reproductive Rights applauds Senate Appropriations Committee for passing bill permitting abortion coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers in the cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest

(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved funding bills for FY15 that finally allow health care coverage for abortion services for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest—a critical fix that would ensure women in the Peace Corps have the same limited coverage available to federal employees, women receiving health care assistance through Medicaid, and most recently, military servicewomen.

The Senate appropriations bill was also amended today to legislatively prevent the reimposition of the Global Gag Rule, a regressive policy that prohibits foreign non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. foreign-assistance funds from using their own, locally raised money to provide safe abortion services or even to provide full and accurate medical information about legal abortion services to their patients.

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

“Peace Corps Volunteers are virtually the only group of individuals with federal health insurance who are subjected to such punitive and extreme restrictions on abortion care. This unjust and unfair policy has discriminated against women in the Peace Corps for more than three decades and it must be fixed.

“We applaud the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for taking this critical step today and showing their respect and support for the health and well-being of Peace Corps Volunteers.

“Now is the moment when Congress can finally right this wrong. We strongly urge the House to follow the lead of their Senate colleagues and finally provide women in the Peace Corps with the equal health care coverage they need and deserve.”

President Barack Obama also included equal coverage for abortion services for Peace Corps Volunteers in his annual budget proposal for FY2015. Additionally, members of Congress also recently introduced the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2014—with primary sponsors Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY). The bill (S. 2291/H.R. 4578), which would permanently fix the long-standing discriminatory federal policy against abortion coverage in limited circumstances for Peace Corps Volunteers.

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 an abortion.