Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) re-introduced the Peace Corps Equity Act in the Senate and House last week. The bill, previously introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would extend coverage for basic reproductive health care services, including abortion, to all Peace Corp volunteers.
“Extending basic reproductive health services to female Peace Corps volunteers is long overdue,” said Sen. Shaheen in a statement. “Peace Corps volunteers face inherent risks living and working abroad and there’s no reason they should be denied standard health care services offered to most women with federal health care coverage.”
Unlike other employees under federal health care plans – including Peace Corps employees – Peace Corps volunteers currently do not have access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or endangered health or life.
“This is about fairness – fairness for American ambassadors working in every corner of the world to save and change lives,” said Rep. Lowey. “It is absolutely unconscionable that female Peace Corps volunteers who are victims of sexual assault, or whose pregnancies endanger their lives, are not afforded the same health care access as virtually all other women with federal health coverage.”
A study and report on the abortion experiences of Peace Corps volunteers, also released last week, found that many peace corps volunteers viewed the ban on abortion coverage even in cases of rape as being particularly punitive. The study, consisting of over 400 interviews with returned volunteers, documented at least 125 different sexual assault and rape experiences. Of those who discussed their own personal experience with abortion, the majority reported that they did not know about the abortion ban before becoming pregnant and that they found it difficult to cover the cost of abortion. Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month. The report recommendations include lifting the “no exceptions policy” on abortion coverage and ensuring that volunteers receive access to a full-range of contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception.
Media Resources: Senator Jeanne Shaheen 5/6/14; Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants 5/2014; Center for Reproductive Rights 5/6/14