December 12, 2014 — The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill moving through Congress includes a provision that would lift a 35-year ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest or danger to a woman's life, National Journal reports (Novack, National Journal, 12/11).
The spending deal, which would fund the federal government through Sept. 30, passed the House Thursday night by a 219-206 vote. The House also passed a two-day temporary funding bill to provide the Senate with more time to pass the appropriations package, which it is expected to do soon, according to the New York Times (Parker/Pear, New York Times, 12/11).
Details of Peace Corps Abortion Coverage
Health insurance coverage for Peace Corps volunteers has been prohibited from covering abortion in any circumstance since 1979. The new policy would bring the Peace Corps' standard in line with other federal policies that bar the use of federal funding for abortion in cases other than rape, incest or when a woman's life is in danger. Currently, the volunteers are one of the only groups with federal health coverage that does not receive abortion coverage in those cases.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate Appropriations committees both approved measures calling to end the Peace Corps policy for the first time. Lawmakers lifted a similar ban last year that had been in place for members of the military and their dependents, according to National Journal (National Journal, 12/11).
CQ Roll Call: Some Omnibus Abortion Provisions Appear in Report Language
Meanwhile, two conservative-backed provisions in the spending package related to abortion are listed in the report language, rather than the bill itself, according to CQ Roll Call.
One provision in the report language instructs the HHS secretary to issue guidance to health insurers "to ensure greater consistency and full transparency of coverage options" in plans sold on the federal health insurance marketplace. It adds that the secretary should base such guidance on related findings from a September Government Accountability Office report and submit a timeline for supplying the guidance within 30 days of the spending measure's enactment.
The other provision states that the HHS secretary should respond promptly when health care providers and other entities that refuse to participate in abortion-related services file complaints with the HHS Office of Civil Rights alleging discrimination because of their refusals.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), co-chair of the House Values Action Team, said, "It would be better if [the provisions] were ... in the language of the bill, but when you're negotiating with [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] and the White House, you know, you've got to negotiate. That's all we could get from them" (Attias/Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 12/10).
The antiabortion-rights House Values Action Team had called for the omnibus to include stronger language on abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5). Pitts said it will "be easier" to pass additional abortion restrictions once Republicans take control of the Senate next month and "we don't have to negotiate with the Senate and just with the White House" (CQ Roll Call, 12/10).
Omnibus Includes Funding To Reduce Rape Kit Backlog
In addition, the spending package would allocate $41 million in funding to help reduce the backlog of untested rape kits across the U.S., BuzzFeed reports.
The money would go toward testing the rape kits and providing police departments and communities with resources to pursue investigations and criminal prosecutions in related cases. According to Associated Press estimates, there are about 400,000 rape kits in police evidence nationwide that have never been tested (Vingiano, BuzzFeed, 12/10).