The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill yesterday with an amendment to remove a provision banning the Peace Corps from funding abortions for its volunteers, even in cases of rape or incest.
Unlike other employees with 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. The Republican-controlled committee had blocked previous efforts to repeal this restriction, but yesterday the amendment passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an identical amendment last week. The full House and Senate must now vote on the FY 2015 appropriations legislation for the repeal to go into effect.
“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,” said Nancy Northop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources.” Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month.
Although the Peace Corps amendment was a victory for reproductive health and rights, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass three other amendments that would have improved US funding for reproductive health programs. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to strike the Global Gag Rule from the appropriations bill. The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign organizations who received US funds from counseling, advocating, or making referrals on abortion. That amendment failed by 19-25 vote.
“Year after year, Republicans attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy endangers the lives of low-income women around the world by denying funds for critical health services,” said Lee in a statement. “I remain committed to the fight to prevent this dangerous policy from being reinstated.”
Amendments offered by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to remove restrictions on US funding for UNFPA, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) to strike language that caps overall funding for international family planning and reproductive health at no more than $461 million – a 25 percent cut from the 2014 level of $610 million – were also defeated.
If passed, these amendments to the appropriations bill would have improved, or even saved, the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. Approximately 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy, and millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions.
Media Resources: Congresswoman Barbara Lee 6/24/14; Population Action International 6/24/14; Huffington Post 6/24/14; Feminist Majority Foundation; Feminist Newswire 5/12/14