This week, Congress took a major step toward fairness when the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2015 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The legislation—if implemented—would lift the decades-old ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, thanks to an amendment successfully added by Rep. Nita Lowey.
If passed into law, Lowey’s Peace Corps amendment will correct a longstanding injustice. Since 1979, Congress has voted to deny female Peace Corps volunteers access to abortion, even in emergency situations. Other recipients of federal health coverage—including federal employees, residents of the District of Columbia, women in federal prisons, and stateside Peace Corps employees—are given access to abortion coverage in cases of rape, life endangerment, and incest. By approving this amendment, members of the Committee—both Democrats and Republicans—agreed to remove the prohibition, bringing reproductive health coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in line with other federal health coverage.
The prohibition on coverage of abortion for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, life endangerment, and incest was similarly removed from the Senate version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.
While the Lowey amendment is an important victory, several other efforts to fix the appropriation bill’s dangerous provisions limiting funding for global reproductive health programs were not approved, leaving the bill seriously flawed as it heads to the House floor. An amendment proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro would have removed the ban on contributions to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and would have secured $35.3 million in U.S. funding for UNFPA, in line with President Obama’s budget request. An amendment offered by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz would have removed language that caps international family planning funding at $461 million, a 25 percent cut from the current FY 2014 level. Rep. Barbara Lee offered an amendment to remove language in the bill that reinstates the “Global Gag Rule.” All three efforts were defeated, and these dangerous provisions, which limit services, shortchange important programs, and restrict women’s rights, remain in the House appropriations legislation.
The FY 2015 State and Foreign Operations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee includes much stronger reproductive health language and funding than its House counterpart. The Senate bill includes just over $37 million for U.S. contributions to UNFPA, and a total of $644.3 million for family planning and reproductive health funding. Thanks to an amendment successfully added by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the bill includes language to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule and prevent its future reinstatement. And like the House bill, the Senate version ends the unjust ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in limited circumstances.
This week’s vote was a critical step toward ensuring fairness for women serving in the Peace Corps, but the rest of the bill still needs work before it’s considered by the full House and Senate. As Congress continues to consider FY 2015 funding legislation, it is critical that members of the House and Senate continue to speak up in favor of reproductive health and rights.