|Take Action: Demand Health Equity for Peace Corps Volunteers|
by Janine Jossen, Director, Public Policy, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
The two years I spent serving as a health volunteer with the Peace Corps in West Africa were some of the most formative years of my life. They fostered my sense of independence and resourcefulness, solidified my career and life goals, and taught me to question injustices, particularly those injustices that jeopardized the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young women and girls and placed them at an educational, economic, social, and political disadvantage. I never imagined that one day I would find myself questioning injustices faced by Peace Corps volunteers themselves.
More than 210,000 of us have served in the Peace Corps since its founding 52 years ago. As anyone can attest, Peace Corps volunteers provide an invaluable service to our country and the countries in which we serve, but we often do it at risk to our own safety and security. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 volunteers have experienced sexual assault. Women—who comprise more than 60 percent of the 8,000 currently serving volunteers—should never have to face the tragedy of a sexual assault, but if they do, they should be able to access comprehensive health care and support services. Yet, Peace Corps volunteers are now one of the only groups of women who receive their health care through the federal government who are denied coverage for abortion services in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.
Denying volunteers a basic health care benefit that is extended to all other federal employees—including the Peace Corps employees who work with these volunteers—is grossly unfair and denies thousands of volunteers access to vital health services. Women serving our country deserve equity and fairness in access to health care, consistent with other areas of federal law.
Fortunately, Senators Lautenberg, Shaheen, Gillibrand, Boxer, Murray, and Warren introduced the Peace Corps Equity Act, which would repeal this inequitable restriction on women’s health and allow the Peace Corps to provide the same coverage for abortion care—in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment—as employees covered under other federal health plans currently receive.
No woman should face life endangerment because she cannot access a medical procedure that is safe and legal in the United States.