On Monday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Nita Lowey (NY-17) reintroduced the Peace Corps Equity Act in the Senate and the House. The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) originally introduced the bill in April 2013. The bill seeks to expand abortion access to individuals volunteering in the Peace Corp who, as of right now, are denied abortion coverage – even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant individual is endangered.  The lack of equity in the current policy is clear. This total abortion ban is more stringent than the policies covering all other federal workers. While the Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from providing insurance coverage for abortion services, it does provide exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Peace Corps workers are governed by this same policy, but Peace Corps volunteers must find a way to fund their own procedures in these cases.

This ban is particularly troubling when you consider the meager monthly stipends that Peace Corps volunteers are provided during their volunteer tenure. Volunteers are given a monthly stipend of approximately $300; most abortion procedures cost approximately $500. Many Peace Corps volunteers who are affected by this ban have kept silent. After learning about Lautenberg’s bill in early 2013, one woman, Christine Carcano, chose to tell the story of her rape, her subsequent pregnancy, and the difficulties she encountered when trying to terminate that pregnancy. The former health volunteer (stationed in Peru) wasn’t well-versed on reproductive health care policies and was shocked when she found out that the Peace Corps could evacuate her, but could not help pay for her abortion. You can read her story here. [WARNING: the description of her assault and trauma may be disturbing for some readers]. 

 The Peace Corps Equity Act is a bipartisan effort. It currently has 27 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate and four co-sponsors in the House. In a press release, Shaheen and Lowey state that this bill is an effort to advance fairness “for American ambassadors working in every corner of the world to save and change lives.” This bill is also about equity: “there’s no reason [volunteers] should be denied standard health care services offered to most women with federal health care coverage.” In 2013, Shaheen successfully repealed the ban on insurance coverage for abortions for members of the armed services who are victims of rape and incest.  Shaheen, Lowey, and their supporters are hopeful that the Peace Corps Equity Act can see the same kind of success. 

You can join the ACLU in demanding a repair for this inequity. Click here to sign our petition asking that Congress provide Peace Corps volunteers access to the full range of reproductive health care they deserve.