Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) joined U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) in introducing legislation to ensure that basic health care benefits are offered to women in the Peace Corps and provide them with the same standard of health care that most women with federal health care coverage already receive. Senator Lautenberg's bill corrects the current inequity in law that prevents the Peace Corps from offering any abortion coverage for volunteers, even for volunteers who have been sexually assaulted or when the life of the woman is endangered. In February, the Peace Corps announced that the state of Washington has the distinction as the first state to ever rank number one in all categories of volunteer-producing universities.
"Our Peace Corps volunteers serve selflessly, often in dangerous conditions, in order to improve the lives of those around the world," said Senator Murray. "There is no reason for the United States to exclude the women serving in the Peace Corps from the same types of health services otherwise available at home. Representing a state with one of the highest numbers of Peace Corps volunteers, I am proud to support the Peace Corps Equity Act which will finally level playing field for women who shouldn't have to risk their well-being in order to make a difference for others."
The "Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013" would allow the Peace Corps to provide its volunteers with health insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman is endangered. Almost all other women covered under federal health plans receive this same coverage. With more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers having experienced sexual assault over the past decade, this technical fix is needed to protect the reproductive rights of women in the Peace Corps. The bill is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The bill is endorsed by the following groups: the National Peace Corps Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Center for Reproductive Rights, Guttmacher Institute, Advocates for Youth, Population Connection, Ipas, American Civil Liberties Union, National Women's Law Center, Population Action International, National Partnership for Women & Families, Center for Health and Gender Equity, The Population Institute, and the National Abortion Federation.
Eliminating the current abortion coverage ban for Peace Corps volunteers also has the support of the Obama Administration and was included in President Obama's budget request. In December, Congress overwhelmingly supported the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment to allow the military to provide this same basic health care benefit to servicewomen.