Peace Corps Volunteers and Abortion Coverage

Christine Carcano joined the Peace Corps in 2011, just two months after graduating college. Four months into her service in Peru, Carcano was raped by a man in the community where she was stationed.

After seeking medical treatment for the pelvic inflammatory disease that came as a result of the rape, Carcano discovered she was pregnant. She was told that if she chose to have an abortion she would have to pay for it on her own.

Congress has finally taken a step toward eliminating situations similar to Carcano’s. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that will extend abortion coverage to Peace Corps volunteers who are victims of rape or incest, or face life-threatening pregnancy complications during their service.

Originally, the federal appropriations provision that funds the Peace Corps prevented funding for abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or dangerous complications. Now, that’s no longer the case. There is no doubt that this is a major win for female Peace Corps volunteers. But I can’t help but think that the new amendment doesn’t deal with the root of the problem.

Peace Corps volunteers reported at least 225 rapes and 856 sexual assaults during the decade ending in 2012, but they privately acknowledged far more attacks.  Twenty-three volunteers privately reported being raped in 2012, but only half of them reported the attacks to superiors, according to confidential surveys. Similarly, 71% of the 801 other sexual assaults that were acknowledged in the surveys were not reported.

Karestan Koenen, a trauma psychology scholar at Columbia University, said the numbers are likely a result of volunteers who “are afraid of being sent home or losing confidentiality.”

The Peace Corps isn’t the only institution where women face sexual assault and a lack of survivor care. (http://www.sfgate.com/world/article/Peace-Corps-rape-victims-still-keep-quiet-4549108.php)

Of the 19,000 men and women who suffered sexual assault in the military in 2010, only 3,200 reported their assaults. Only 8% of sexual assailants are referred to military court, but 40% of similar offenders are prosecuted in the civilian court system.

In 2012, 26,000 instances of sexual assault were estimated to have taken place in the military. Although 2,000 more men were assaulted than women, a higher proportion of women overall were assaulted. About 6.8 percent of women surveyed said they were assaulted compared with 1.2 percent of the men.

In 2013, the National Authorization Act was signed into law, guaranteeing military women abortion coverage in cases of rape and incest. Originally, only women in life-threatening situations due to pregnancy could receive insurance funded abortions.

However, the NAA, similar to the recent Peace Corp amendment, raises important questions: How many women actually report cases of rape or incest? And what’s to stop a superior from calling a woman a liar and denying her proper abortion coverage?

The Hyde Amendment, which has been in place since 1976, prevents federal funds from being put toward abortion procedures. By 1993, federal funds were extended to cover abortions in cases of rape, incest and endangerment to the mother, but this doesn’t go far enough.

All women, regardless of class or race, should have a right to abortion coverage no matter the reason. While access to abortion care should not be limited, current laws give superiors the power to deny a woman abortion coverage if they don’t believe she’s been raped. Abortion is a form of health care, and the decision to undergo the procedure should be left to the woman, not to the military, the Peace Corps or anyone else.

I appreciate Congress’s bipartisan support of an amendment that aims to help female Peace Corps volunteers, but it isn’t enough. It’s time we overturn the far outdated Hyde Amendment and give women the reproductive freedom they deserve.

6 Responses to “Peace Corps Volunteers and Abortion Coverage”

  1. Jill

    Why should a child die because of rape? The wrong that occurred does not justify the death of human life that had nothing to do with what happened – only became the result. I personally know people who had been adopted because they are the result of rape. They are grateful for their life and grateful that their birth mother did not make the so called choice to kill them. Have you ever heard of adoption? Who makes the mother and father and government and courts – the judge and jury as to which unborn child deserves to live and who deserves a death sentence?

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  2. Cindy Wilcox

    Damn right! I can not understand why this is even questionable. Women should not have to ask for anyone’s permission to have control over their bodies.

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  3. Cindy Wilcox

    I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay from 1991 – 1993. I personally know of a Peace Corps Volunteer that used a medicinal herb to try to spontaneously abort a potential pregnancy. Fortunately for her, she did not get sick or die from it unlike the fate of many Paraguayan women who have tried this home remedy. I’m glad she’s been able to stick around on earth with us, she’s a remarkable woman who was a very good friend of mine. Without the right to a safe abortion, women are being forced to risk their lives or face being impoverished along with their children that they don’t want for the rest of their lives.

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  4. KatieC

    Ladies……. here is a novel concept in birth control…… It doesn’t cost the tax payers anything. The down side is that it requires the woman to act responsibly and exhibit self control. How about “LETS KEEP OUR LEGS CLOSED!!” We can say no. Whether or not I agree with abortion is not the issue. The issue is that my tax dollars are paying for people to continually be irresponsible with their bodies. I should not have to pay for other peoples irresponsibility. Everyone can have the “right” to an abortion but not at MY expense.

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  5. Diane

    What support do Peace Corps volunteers have when they are on site? Were the police contacted in Peru when this happened? Do they have rape kits there that include emergency contraception? This woman deserved to be treated immediately and I think THAT is the issue. Where’s the plan for women who have the misfortune of rape. This is a case where I agree with emergency contraception as women have no choice to make a contraception choice. I think NOW should be working on arrangements for these women have access to immediate and appropriate assistance as does any rape victim.

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