The Senate Appropriations Committee passed measures on Thursday that would repeal two decades-old policies restricting abortion care abroad. One would lift a total ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers, and another would permanently repeal the so-called Global Gag Rule that prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. aid from either funding or advocating for abortion care.
Although Peace Corps volunteers make only about $300 a month, less than the cost of a typical abortion, since 1979 they have been the only people with federal health insurance who cannot receive any funding for abortion care, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Most federal abortion coverage bans allow exceptions in those three limited circumstances. A recent report details the harm this policy has caused volunteers, and 97 percent of those volunteers surveyed think the policy should be changed.
“This is a welcome and long overdue step toward fair and equal treatment of women who volunteer for their country in the Peace Corps,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, in a statement about the committee’s action to repeal the restriction. “It would finally give Peace Corps volunteers the same abortion coverage as other women who get their health insurance through the federal government. It’s about time.”
For 30 years, since 1984 when it was first imposed by the Reagan administration, the Global Gag Rule has been alternately rescinded under Democratic administrations and reinstated in Republican administrations. Advocates say that it fails to reduce the number of abortions overseas, defunds some of the best foreign family planning providers, harming women’s health, and prevents foreign agencies from using even their own money for abortion counseling or services.
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The amendment to legislatively prevent the reimposition of the Global Gag Rule, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), “could mean ending the global gag rule once and for all, 30 years after its inception,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “Imagine that: no more service interruptions, health center closures, or playing political football with women’s health and lives.”
The Senate’s version of the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill will have to be reconciled with the House’s version. The two chambers have introduced competing amendments to either reinstate or repeal the gag rule over the last several years.