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"America's Angels" One Step Closer to the Health Care They Deserve

Sarah Lipton-Lubet,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 21, 2011

Every year, over 8,000 people serve in the Peace Corps, venturing to far-flung regions of the world to give their time and energy to aid communities in developing countries, as cultural ambassadors for America. Peace Corps volunteers sacrifice the comforts of home, and at times their health and safety, to carry out the agency’s mission. And they do it for peanuts. Some call them America’s angels abroad.

Among the volunteers’ sacrifices, however, has been comprehensive health care coverage for their reproductive health needs. It shouldn’t be that way.

Since 1979, Congress has prohibited the Peace Corps from providing coverage for abortion services with no exception. The allowances for abortion coverage in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment that are found in other federal health insurance plans are denied to women serving in the Peace Corps — despite the fact that these women often serve in countries where good and safe medical care is hard to come by, and the Peace Corps has acknowledged that it is in the midst of grappling with a serious sexual assault problem This morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved an important bill combating this issue.

Even extreme anti-choice legislation includes exceptions for life endangerment, rape, and incest. Abortion coverage in these cases is a no-brainer, and leaving the women of the Peace Corps behind is inexcusable.

That’s why today, for the first time in recent memory, the Senate bill that funds the Peace Corps program was voted out of committee with exceptions for life, rape, and incest in its abortion coverage ban. This is a first and crucial step toward ensuring that the health and well-being of Peace Corps volunteers is fully protected.

Every woman should have the reproductive health care coverage she needs, and all the bans on insurance coverage for abortion — private and public — should be repealed. But at the very least, Peace Corps volunteers deserve the same exceptions for dire circumstances as other women who get their health insurance through the federal government.

It is unconscionable that in the United States of America, in the 21st century, Congress would continue to put forward a ban denying abortion coverage to women whose lives are threatened or who are survivors of rape and incest. Coverage in those cases should be uncontroversial.

Today’s actions mark a vital and long awaited change. It’s a good step, down a long road.

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