Abortion Funding for Peace Corps’ Volunteers Advances With Republican Support

Bills eliminating the restriction passed in both House and Senate appropriations committees for the first time.

National Journal
Sophie Novack
June 24, 2014, 8:50 a.m.

Con­gress has re­peatedly blocked fed­er­al fund­ing for abor­tions for Peace Corps mem­bers, even in the event of rape, in­cest, or life en­dan­ger­ment. Un­til now.

For the first time, the Sen­ate and House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tees have both ap­proved bills that lift the ban on abor­tion fund­ing for vo­lun­teers in the above cir­cum­stances. The move­ment gives reas­on to be­lieve Con­gress may ac­tu­ally ap­prove the fund­ing this year.

The House com­mit­tee passed an amend­ment al­low­ing for the cov­er­age as part of the Fisc­al 2015 state and for­eign op­er­a­tions ap­pro­pri­ations bill in a voice vote Tues­day af­ter­noon. Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations passed sim­il­ar lan­guage in the same bill last week.

Since 1979, in­sur­ance through the Peace Corps has been pro­hib­ited from cov­er­ing abor­tions un­der any cir­cum­stances, even though emer­gency cov­er­age was avail­able for oth­er re­cip­i­ents of gov­ern­ment-sponsored in­sur­ance — in­clud­ing fed­er­al em­ploy­ees and Medi­caid re­cip­i­ents. Con­gress elim­in­ated a sim­il­ar pro­hib­i­tion for mem­bers of the mil­it­ary last year. Fed­er­al fund­ing for abor­tions is pro­hib­ited out­side the above three situ­ations.

Op­pon­ents of the Peace Corps ban ar­gue that vo­lun­teers should have the same ac­cess to cov­er­age. And, they say, giv­en that the Peace Corps is 60 per­cent fe­male, and typ­ic­ally in po­ten­tially ris­ki­er situ­ations, the emer­gency cov­er­age is all the more crit­ic­al.

The ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess has fol­lowed a pre­dict­able pat­tern in re­cent years, however, with the Sen­ate aim­ing to lift the fund­ing re­stric­tion, and the House re­peatedly up­hold­ing it. Without bicam­er­al sup­port, at­tempts to strike the ban have fallen flat.

However, this year was the first in which a stand-alone bill ad­dress­ing the is­sue was in­tro­duced in the House, giv­ing abor­tion-rights ad­voc­ates hope that this time might be dif­fer­ent.

The Peace Corps Equity Act of 2014 was in­tro­duced by Demo­crat­ic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York in May, while a cor­res­pond­ing bill was re­in­tro­duced by Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire in the Sen­ate. The ef­fort was ori­gin­ally spear­headed by the late Sen. Frank Lauten­berg.

Pres­id­ent Obama has in­cluded fund­ing for emer­gency abor­tion ser­vices for Peace Corps vo­lun­teers in his budget pro­pos­al for the past two years.

“This is the first time it has got­ten through House Ap­pro­pri­ations,” Mat­thew Den­nis, com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for House Ap­pro­pri­ations Demo­crats, wrote in an email. “The fact that both House and Sen­ate com­mit­tees have ap­proved it is im­port­ant as the pro­cess moves for­ward.”

A full vote on the le­gis­la­tion has not yet been sched­uled in the House or Sen­ate.

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