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Washington Post: Advocates want abortion ban lifted for Peace Corps volunteers

"If a Peace Corps volunteer is raped and becomes pregnant as a result, she has to pay for an abortion herself, because the federal government refuses to cover the cost.

Yet victims of rape or incest or women whose health is endangered by a pregnancy have long received insurance coverage for abortions if they work for the Peace Corps, along with other federal employees, federal prisoners and women on Medicaid. In January, women in the military got the same access.

But the ban for Peace Corps volunteers has been in place since 1979, when Congress attached a rider to the agency's annual appropriation.

Recent scrutiny from Congress of sexual assaults in the humanitarian agency - and a growing number of volunteers who are speaking openly about their experiences, have emboldened the ban's opponents.

Their efforts also got a boost from the Obama administration, which put language in the proposed 2014 budget that allows coverage for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's health is endangered.

And Thursday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) plans to introduce a bill supporting the federal coverage for volunteers.

'This is really about fixing what feels like an antiquated provision [of law] that's completely out of sync with the way we treat civil servants,' said Aram Schvey, policy counsel for foreign policy and human rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Along with Planned Parenthood and other women's health groups, the center has been pushing to get the ban stripped from the budget.

The Lautenberg bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), author of an amendment to the Defense bill the president signed into law in January that repeals a ban on abortion coverage for women in the armed services who are victims of rape and incest. Military insurance had only covered abortions performed to save the life of the mother.

Advocates said they were encouraged by that change, and by passage in 2011 of a law that provides better protections for volunteers who report wrongdoing and gives them better training on how to avoid attacks and sexual assaults.

Every year, on average, 22 Peace Corps women report being the victims of rape or attempted rape, the agency said. From 2000 to 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes."

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