Extending Equality: Abortion Coverage for Women in the Peace Corps

By Kate Frawley, Reproductive Freedom Fellow

Today, Medicaid recipients, residents of the District of Columbia, and women in federal prisons receive abortion coverage when a pregnancy becomes life-threatening or is the result of rape or incest. In December 2012, the Shaheen Amendment extended coverage to military personnel and their dependents. However, US federal appropriation bills have blocked abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers since 1979, and there are currently no exceptions to the mandate. Since 1961, the US Peace Corps has placed over 215,000 Americans as volunteers in 139 developing countries.

More than half of the Peace Corps volunteers are women, 90 percent are single, and the average age is 28. Although a volunteer’s monthly stipend is currently in the range of $250 to $300 per month, they receive health care free of charge during their two years of service. And yet the Peace Corps does not cover the cost of abortion procedures, not even in cases of rape, sexual assault, or incest.

So why not Peace Corps volunteers?

In a 2014 study conducted by the University of Ottawa, a group of 362 women returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) were interviewed regarding their service, and experiences with abortion, sexual assault, or rape while stationed in one of the reported 83 countries.  A staggering 140 participants (32.3 percent) reported on the rape or sexual assault of a member of their cohort, while 32 participants (8.8 percent) reported a personal experience of rape or sexual assault while serving.

Even in instances of rape and sexual assault, a Peace Corps volunteer receives no abortion coverage upon returning to Washington, DC after medical evacuation.  When a woman in the Peace Corps requests an abortion, she is flown to Washington, DC where she is forced to pay for the procedure out of pocket.  Even worse, roughly 70 percent of the study participants were not aware of the “no exceptions” policy while serving.  This means that when many volunteers returned to the US, they were informed for the first time that they would have to pay for the procedure out of pocket while they were already pregnant. With a limited stipend, many volunteers would not be able to pay for an abortion.  Since the “no exceptions” policy is still in effect, many Peace Corps volunteers seek abortions in the country which they are stationed. In some cases, this means seeking an abortion that is illegal or deemed “decidedly unsafe” by physicians.

The study reported overarching themes of isolation, lack of confidentiality, lack of social support, and stress regarding the cost of the abortion. Many RPCVs have described the policy as “unfair and unjust,” but also as a reflection on the culture of victim-blaming in instances of rape and sexual assault.  97 percent of the study’s participants disagreed with the Peace Corp’s policy on abortion coverage. However, RPCVs almost unanimously supported the notion of a change to expand abortion coverage in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. Pro-choice lawmakers are currently trying to make changes to the US Peace Corps abortion coverage policy through the Peace Corps Equity Act.

You can fight for reproductive rights within the Peace Corps, too.

This petition from NARAL Pro-Choice America demands that the “no exceptions” policy be lifted, seeks to better inform volunteers about the current policy, finds ways that active volunteers can have access to abortion care, and ensures that Peace Corps volunteers have access to  the full range of contraceptive methods.  You can help promote fairness for Peace Corps volunteers by contacting your members of Congress demanding that they support the Peace Corps Equity Act.

(Image via.)

Kate Frawley is a Reproductive Freedom Fellow at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.


Friday Femorandum: Beyonce Voters

Welcome to the Friday Femorandum, our weekly roundup of reproductive rights news.

Here’s what happened in reproductive politics this week:

Well, this happened:

Mitch McConnell and 42 cronies voted for corporations over health care for women.

They had one job: to fix the Supreme Court’s mistake, which they could have done by voting for our own Senator Patty Murray’s Not My Boss’ Business act. They didn’t do it.

At our blog, A Few Choice Words, we wrote about how those bill-blocking anti-choice politicians are failing democracy, and provided some important clarifications on what it really means to be pro-choice.

Speaking of Hobby Lobby: Turns out discrimination against women is bad for business. Members at Seattle’s own Central Co-op have been boycotting Eden Foods - one of the companies joining Hobby Lobby in the fight against health - and the co-op is dropping 80 percent of Eden Organics’ offerings from their shelves as a result.

Confidential to PCC members: PCC is still carrying Eden products.You can email them about that here.

Still speaking of Hobby Lobby: Turns out that in 1990, Justice Scalia ruled against religious freedom in a case involving Native American religious practices, prompting theDemocratic Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect religious minorities – the very legislation that was then used as a precedent in the Hobby Lobby case.By Scalia. Giving new meaning to the word “hypocrisy.”

Oh wait, there’s more: Hobby Lobby is apparently expanding its presence in western Washington in a big way, which, good, that’ll make it WAY easier to boycott them.

As a reminder, this is how we’re fighting back against this nonsense.

“Bring it down to a woman’s level.” Welcome to the GOP’s new messaging strategy, which looks a lot like their old one.

I don’t care if you like it: Rebecca Traister provides a needed response to gendered, judgmental, everyday scrutiny directed at women, at The New Republic.

Now ordaining women: The Church of England.

That’s why it’s called “telemedicine,” you guys: A Wisconsin judge has ruled that actually, no, doctors do not have to be present when a woman takes prescribed medication to induce abortion.

This week’s feminist killjoy is Sarah Coughlon, the genius behind Beyonce Voters, the amazing Tumblr that took a phrase Fox News meant as a put-down to women voters and turned it into the most amazing thing on the Internet. Exhibit A:


You’re welcome.

Thank you for being pro-choice. You restore our faith in humanity every day

Subscribe to the Friday Femorandum.

Just one of the quirky sightings our organizing team captures every day on the job.

You’re More Pro-Choice Than You Think

By Jillian Altizer, Former Community Organizer

[ Ed. Note -- This post uses the term "pro-life" throughout. While normally we would use the term "anti-choice" to characterize opponents to reproductive rights, we are using the term "pro-life" in this piece, because it's literally what Jillian hears at the door and it's what she's responding to in this piece. In this case, many folks who describe themselves as "personally pro-life" are actually pro-choice. ]

In my ten months of organizing for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, I’ve loved the experience of reaching out to perfect strangers and making space for the issue of choice. Our canvass has knocked on doors as far north as Bellingham and as far south as Vancouver. The times we journey outside of the Seattle area we find more anti-choice views, but so far I have never been anywhere in Washington where the pro-choice values were a minority.

Spotted on-turf: Adorable pro-choice pets.

Spotted on-turf: Adorable pro-choice pets.

When I knock on a door, introduce myself and NARAL, and declare that we are fighting for abortion access, I occasionally meet a few people who genuinely struggle about what their beliefs are. Even in 2014, the word “abortion” carries stigma, despite the fact that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion before age 45. Many people have never heard a woman share her story and without that context, there is often a lack of understanding. I feel so touched when a woman shares her story with me and thanks me for the work I do.

The temptation to delve into a discussion with someone who disagrees with me can be strong, but I smile and wish them a lovely evening because minds don’t change in a matter of minutes and I need to find and engage my supporters. But the myriad of responses I hear give me a lot to consider about what it means to be pro-choice. For me it comes down to freedom and not judging others.

Here are some comments I occasionally hear from people on the fence:

“I’m pro-life but I don’t think abortion should be made illegal.”

Guess what? You’re pro-choice. Someone who chooses to never have an abortion isn’t pro-life unless they want to impose their personal choice on everyone else. The pro-choice movement values all women having freedom to do what’s best for them, whether that choice is motherhood, adoption, or abortion. I’ve met more than one woman carrying a baby in her arms with another kid hanging onto her leg who has enthusiastically signed down and donated to protect the choices of other women.

“I’m pro-choice but____________.”

  • …women shouldn’t use abortion as birth control.
  • …only in cases of rape or incest.
  • …not after the third trimester.
  • etc.

When you say you’re pro-choice, you are saying that you trust women to make decisions about their own lives and bodies without judgment. No exceptions. There are many myths and misconceptions created by the anti-choice movement to make limiting abortion access seem reasonable, but these restrictions are based on an assumption that women cannot be trusted to make the right choice. The choice to have an abortion is a deeply personal decision between a woman, her doctor and her family, not the rest of the world acting as the morality police.

I am inspired every day to see how many people of different sexes, ethnicities, orientations and economic classes support choice. Every stereotype I subconsciously held has been shattered on this journey. One man I assumed would be conservative raised his fist and declared he was a feminist who “put it all on the line” to end the Vietnam War back in the day. After countless strangers have invited me into their homes, offered me food or water, and shared a bit of their lives with me, I can’t help but be confident in the goodness in humanity. My hope is that more people struggling with the issue of abortion access will realize that the kind and loving thing to do is let others be free to make our own private health decisions.

Jillian Altizer was a community organizer at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and loved the unique and passionate conversations that happened in the field. She now works in vegetable production for an organic farm in Auburn. She enjoys writing, painting, gardening, and plotting how to live to at least 105 years old. By that time, she hopes to see the invention of the perfect birth control and a federal ban on abortion restrictions.

Not My Boss’ Business Act blocked by the U.S. Senate

By Jaimie Just, Reproductive Freedom Fellow

The Hobby Lobby decision that came down from the Supreme Court on June 30 leaves very few, on either side of the political spectrum, neutral or indifferent. While many of us are disappointed and angry following the decision to subject affordable access to all forms of contraceptives to the religious whims of a family-owned corporation, we are also ready to stand up and reject this affront to women and their families. We here at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington have heard from outraged citizens who see the ruling as having gone too far, as rolling back the clock to a time when a woman’s health care decisions were dictated by outside forces.

Decision-makers in our government have also expressed objections to employers’ interference in employees’ birth control and other health care decisions. In a press briefing following the June 30 decision, the White House stated that:

[…] the President believes that women should have the freedom to make their own decisions about their health care coverage, and that interference by their boss for whatever reason — based on their religious views or just their scientific opinion — is inappropriate.[1]

The Senate Democrats agree with him and they have tried to reverse the Supreme Court’s grave blunder with the introduction of a new bill: S. 2578, commonly referred to as the Not My Boss’ Business Act.

A motion to debate S. 2578 – Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act was introduced today by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The bill needed 60 affirmative votes in order to advance. Unsurprisingly, given the polarized and politicized atmosphere surrounding the issue of women’s reproductive rights, the bill did not receive the “supermajority” of votes that would have allowed it to pass to the floor for debate. A 56-43 vote blocked the motion.[2]

“Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions.[…] Not anyone else—period.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), July 16, 2014

“Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions.[…] Not anyone else—period.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), July 16, 2014

For pro-choice voters across the country, inaction and obstruction in the 113th Congress have become common, exasperating, themes. Even if S. 2578 had cleared the Senate, one can hardly imagine the anti-choice majority in the House ratifying it.  With 36 U.S. Senate seats up for election this year, we do not expect to see many legislators crossing party lines on controversial issues such as this one, where contraceptive rights are pitted against calls for “religious liberty” – in refusing to cover or provide said contraceptives. This vote, strategically held during a mid-term election year, provides a tool for holding elected representatives accountable to their electorate. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI, currently serving out the late Daniel Inouye’s term) was absent from today’s vote.[3] Perhaps he is trying to keep a low profile in the lead-up to Hawaii’s August 9th primary and Senate election scheduled for November 4th.

Sen. McConnell introduces a new bill to “Protect Religious Freedom and Preserve Women’s Right to Make Contraception Decisions” during the July 16, 2014 session

Sen. McConnell introduces a new bill to “Protect Religious Freedom and Preserve Women’s Right to Make Contraception Decisions” during the July 16, 2014 session

What can we do to stem the tide of anti-choice rhetoric that is slowly being transformed into law? The power in a democracy is supposed to reside in the hands of the people. When 61% of Americans and 65% of American women support the health care law’s requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control[4], how can we abide the increasingly blatant disregard for the desire of “the people” at almost every level of government?

Jaimie Just is a Reproductive Freedom Fellow at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.

[1] Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/30/2014,” Web, (Accessed July 16, 2014),
[4] Drake, Bruce, “Kaiser: Majority of Americans back health law mandate on contraceptive coverage,” Web, (Accessed July 16, 2014)

Supreme Court Unanimously Decides to Allow Anti-Abortion Group’s Suit to Go Forward

As the pro-choice community waits nervously for a decision in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, we learned last Monday of another SCOTUS decision regarding the anti-choice group the Susan B. Anthony List. Unlike the real Susan B. Anthony, the SBA List opposes the advancement of women’s rights, claiming – falsely – that Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion rights, although many scholars contest this.

Given that the SBA List has been accused of making false statements about its own namesake, it should come as no surprise that they’ve been accused of making false statements against a politician they opposed. In Ohio, in 2010, they ran a billboard against then-Representative Steve Driehaus that said: “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funded abortion.”

Above: The Susan B. Anthony List's disputed Steve Driehaus ad.

Above: The Susan B. Anthony List’s disputed Steve Driehaus ad.

Unfortunately, we can’t move to high-five Mr. Driehaus for voting to cover a basic reproductive right. Obamacare does allow abortions to be funded through a series of special accounts, but these are separate from taxpayer funds, and Driehaus has actually sued the SBA List for making this statement about him. Specifically, Driehaus referenced an Ohio law which makes it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.”

Driehaus’s lawsuit was later dismissed, but a federal court did side with him separately. This is what caused more federal courts to intervene, which the SBA List encouraged, because they were so offended by Driehaus’ accusations. SCOTUS has now given lower courts the green light to proceed with the lawsuit, which will enable them to now begin examining as to whether the Ohio law is constitutional.

It’s important to note that the Supreme Court’s decision on allowing the lawsuit to go forward was unanimous, with even the liberal justices agreeing that the law against false statements did not have a strong enough foundation in the constitution for the lawsuit to be immediately dismissed. Even some progressive advocacy organizations have questioned whether the law is appropriate. The primary concern among many appears to be the fact that the law allows anyone to file a complaint claiming that a political statement is untrue.

But this entire controversy ignores a much larger issue, which is that far too often the media ignores blatant false statements made by right-wing politicians and activists. Perhaps if more media outlets were willing to call out these lies, then laws such like the one in Ohio would not be necessary. Now that the Supreme Court has become involved, a future ruling in favor of the Susan B. Anthony List could only embolden anti-choice groups to place even more misleading and derogatory information out front. As it stands currently, the SBA List is already planning to spend up to $10 million on political campaigns this coming fall.