April 26, 2013 —Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Thursday introduced a bill (S 813) that would end a ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is in danger, the Washington Post reports.
Reversing the ban would give Peace Corps volunteers the same abortion coverage as other women with federal health benefits, including federal government employees, federal prisoners, Medicaid beneficiaries and Native Americans. The ban has been in place since 1979, when it was first attached as a rider to an appropriations measure. According to the Post, one reason the rider was able to single out Peace Corps volunteers is that they are not technically government employees and, therefore, not covered by the federal government's health plan.
More than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported being sexually assaulted between 2000 and 2009, including 221 cases involving rape or attempted rape, the Post reports (Rein, Washington Post, 4/25).
The bill -- titled the Peace Corps Equity Act -- is co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who also sponsored a recently enacted provision that ended a ban on abortion coverage for servicewomen in cases of rape and incest. The new measure does not yet have a House sponsor (Rao, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 4/25).
The Obama administration has expressed support for lifting the ban, and the president's 2014 budget proposal calls for changes similar to those in the bill, according to the Post (Washington Post, 4/25).
Lautenberg in a statement said that Peace Corps volunteers "face inherent risks to their safety and security" ("Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 4/25). He added, "It is unacceptable that [volunteers'] own country restricts their access to care" (Washington Post, 4/25).
Andrea Friedman -- director of reproductive health programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families -- said, "I think this should be a no-brainer. There's no rational reason to deny women in the Peace Corps coverage" ("Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 4/25).
Antiabortion-rights groups said the measure is an attempt by the administration to expand abortion services. Charmaine Yoest -- president of Americans United for Life -- in a statement said, "Rather than addressing the egregious security concerns that we should all have for these young women who are being sent [into] dangerous situations, the Obama administration and [its] allies are using the horrific events in ... [their] lives to expand federal involvement in abortion" (Washington Post, 4/25).