July 26, 2013 — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (S 1372) with language allowing the Peace Corps to provide its volunteers abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest or when a woman's life is at risk, Salon reports (McDonough, Salon, 7/25). Since 1979, the Peace Corps has been restricted from providing abortion coverage.
More than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported instances of sexual assault during their service between 2000 and 2009, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes.
The provision, called the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013, is sponsored by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
In a news release, Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said, "The Senate Appropriations Committee took a welcome and long-overdue step today toward fair and equal treatment of women who volunteer to serve their country in the Peace Corps by advancing a bill that will give them the same abortion coverage as other women who get their health insurance from the federal government." She added, "Peace Corps volunteers are one of the last groups of women without coverage of abortion care in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, and that's wrong."
The spending bill also includes an amendment sponsored by Shaheen to permanently abolish the Mexico City Policy or "Global Gag Rule." The rule blocks U.S. funding for global health organizations that provide abortions or advise women on their abortion options. Although President Obama repealed the policy upon his inauguration in 2009, the amendment would permanently repeal the policy and keep it from being reinstated upon the election of a conservative president (Bassett, Huffington Post, 7/25).
Committee Lifts Restrictions on D.C.'s Use of Taxpayer Money for Abortion
In related news, the committee approved a spending bill (S 1371) that would repeal a ban preventing the District of Columbia from using non-federal funds to pay for abortions for low-income women, the Washington Post reports.
The overall spending bill would give D.C. the authority to spend local money without requiring approval from Congress, something the city has been unable to do since 1996.
However, budget legislation introduced in the House would keep the fiscal restrictions in place, "setting up yet another clash over the issue whenever the two bills have to be reconciled," the Post reports (Pershing, Washington Post, 7/25).