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.