Women’s Health Groups Support Federal Insurance for Volunteers

In 1979, Congress attached a rider to an annual appropriations bill that restricted abortion insurance coverage for Peace Corps volunteers who were victims of rape. Now, if a Peace Corps volunteer is raped and becomes pregnant as a result, she has to pay for the procedure out of pocket – because the federal government refuses to cover the cost.

For those serving in third world countries where safe abortion services are largely inaccessible, women often cannot afford the most reliable medical procedures. For Peace Corps volunteers with no income for years at a time, this is especially traumatizing.

Meanwhile, women on the paid Peace Corps staff can receive federal insurance coverage for abortions in case of rape, incest and fatal medical complications, as do many other types of federal employees. And in January of this year, military women received the same insurance privileges that all federal employees are granted– so why the delay for volunteers? One of the reasons the 1979 rider was able to exempt volunteers from coverage provided to other federal employees is that volunteers technically are not federal workers, and not covered by the federal health plan.

The Peace Corps has about 8,700 volunteers serving in 77 countries around the world. About 60 percent are women. From 2000 to 2009, over 1,000 volunteers reported being the victim of a sexual assault, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes. Experts say the incidence is likely higher than is actually reported. Women’s health groups are advocating for Congress to strip the ban from federal law and allow equal treatment for all members of the organization, hoping that recent public opinion will support their cause.

 

Language in the proposed 2014 federal budget would allow federal coverage for abortions for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s health is in danger, and on Thursday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced a bill supporting the same coverage for volunteers that is offered to other women who get federal health benefits.

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