One Step Closer to Equity for Peace Corps Volunteers

by | Jul 26, 2013 | Reproductive Rights

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: Women who work for the Peace Corps at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and women who volunteer for the Peace Corps and serve overseas receive different health care coverage from the federal government. Currently, a woman who works for the Peace Corps in Washington has insurance that includes coverage for abortion services in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, like every other federal employee. A woman who volunteers for the Peace Corps does not.

It is outrageous that Peace Corps volunteers do not receive the same coverage as other women who rely on the government for their insurance. But now, we are one step closer to ending this discriminatory and dangerous policy.

The Senate Appropriations Committee took welcome and long-overdue action yesterday toward fair and equal treatment of women who serve in the Peace Corps when it passed the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which contains language ending this grave inequity. The legislation now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Last year, Congress included language in the FY2013 Defense Authorization bill that gave U.S. servicewomen serving overseas abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest. It was a hard-fought victory that left Peace Corps volunteers as one of the last groups of women without coverage of abortion care in those circumstances.

In addition to the inequity, this imperils women’s health. The risk of sexual assault is an unfortunate reality for all women. Women are 62 percent of Peace Corps volunteers, and they need coverage for the full range of reproductive health care. While we strongly believe that abortion coverage bans are harmful to women and should be lifted entirely, at least Congress should make coverage for women in the Peace Corps equitable.

While this victory in the Appropriations Committee is significant, we’re not there yet. The uncertainty surrounding this year’s appropriations process makes it imperative that everyone who wants to protect Peace Corps volunteers and end this inequity urge lawmakers to include the Peace Corps Equity Act in any bill to fund State Department programs. Unfortunately, in the past few years we’ve become accustomed to last-minute scrambles to reach agreement on government funding levels and pass legislation to keep the government running. In these down-to-the-wire negotiations, badly needed measures like this one are often left behind. That’s why we’re redoubling our efforts to get the Peace Corps Equity Act signed into law. Peace Corps volunteers are counting on us.