Even in cases of rape and incest, volunteers seeking an abortion are left to fend for themselves—but a new bill could change that
In 1994, I packed my bags and headed off to begin my two-year-and-three-months’ commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, a tiny country completely surrounded by South Africa. It was a life-changing experience that forever shaped my views on the world and launched my career in global health and development.
During training, we received extensive information on how best to protect our health and safety. We were assured that in the case of an emergency, our government had our backs. I was told I’d be evacuated in the face of political violence. My health insurance would cover my hospital bills should I be hit by a bus or fall in a ditch or otherwise suffer any accidents on the job.
But if I needed an abortion, I was on my own. Even if I had been raped. Even if the pregnancy threatened my life.
Women make up more than 60 percent of the 8,000-plus Peace Corps volunteers who devote their time and energy in service to populations around the world, working on a range of issues including education, health, youth and community development, business, communications technology, agriculture, and the environment. But despite their service to others, Peace Corps volunteers are denied the same abortion coverage that other federal workers receive in the cases of rape and incest, and when the life of the woman is endangered.
This total ban on abortion for Peace Corps volunteers was attached to the appropriations bill as a rider in 1979 and has been passed every year since. Just before its August recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill that funds U.S. foreign affairs, including a provision that would grant women in the Peace Corps the same access to abortion coverage that women in the armed services receive.
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