In recent days, Congress passed a massive, controversial $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill—known as the “Cromnibus” —to fund the vast majority of the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year 2015. Despite its significant flaws in some areas, the passage of the Cromnibus puts reproductive health in a fairly strong position going forward. It preserves funding for reproductive health programs through the coming months and makes a small but critical step forward by ensuring Peace Corps volunteers have equal access to abortion coverage.
IWHC has long advocated for an end to congressional restrictions on comprehensive reproductive health care for Peace Corps volunteers. Unlike other recipients of health coverage, Peace Corps volunteers have been denied access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, life endangerment, and incest. This is a very real challenge for many women who choose to serve – a recent study found that around 10 percent of women report being raped during their service.
In 1979, Congress voted to deny abortion coverage, under any circumstance, to Peace Corps volunteers. Recently, congressional champions including Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen have aggressively sought to fix this through bipartisan legislation. The passage of their provisions in the Cromnibus will bring coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in line with other federal government health benefits.
Beyond this critical Peace Corps funding fix, the Cromnibus represents a victory for reproductive health champions by holding the current line in a difficult political environment. It includes $575 million in bilateral family planning and reproductive health funding, as well as an additional $35 million for U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This ensures continued U.S. bilateral and multilateral family planning and reproductive health funding at the same level as FY2014.
It’s also worth highlighting that funding levels were maintained without the imposition of new, dangerous reproductive health policy riders. Language legislatively reinstating the “Global Gag Rule,” which was included in the House version of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, was not included in the Cromnibus. However, the Cromnibus maintained other abortion restrictions that are routinely attached to funding bills, including the prohibition on using U.S. funds from to provide or promote abortion as a method of family planning.
Overall, maintaining the status quo on reproductive health funding is an important victory for women’s health. Massive cuts or the approval of new policy riders this year would have established a dangerous precedent for FY2016, when the political environment will likely be even more challenging. Furthermore, the Peace Corps change, while a simple and technical fix, will have a very real impact on the lives of many volunteers and will expand their access to comprehensive reproductive health services.