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WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood Federation of America today praised provisions to expand access to women’s health care passed in the Senate FY15 State-Foreign Operations funding bill by the Appropriations Committee. The bill includes the adoption of a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to permanently repeal the so-called global gag rule, which prevents any organization receiving U.S. international family planning funds from providing counseling, referrals, or abortion services or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with their own money.

“Politicians should not come between a woman and her doctor, no matter where she lives,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The Shaheen amendment could mean ending the global gag rule once and for all, 30 years after its inception. Imagine that: no more service interruptions, health center closures, or playing political football with women’s health and lives.”

Passed with bipartisan support, the Senate bill also includes increased funding for crucial international family planning and reproductive health programs and a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The bill also fixes the current inequitable ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers, extending to them the same coverage for abortion services in the case of rape, incest, or a life-endangering pregnancy that other women with federal health care already receive. Women make up more than 60% of Peace Corps volunteers. Current policy denies coverage of abortion for Peace Corps volunteers even when a woman has been raped or faces a life-threatening pregnancy.

“No woman should have to sacrifice access to health care in order to serve her country,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, vice president—global, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I commend the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Leahy and Senator Shaheen for working to ensure that women serving in the Peace Corps receive the health care coverage they need and deserve, and call on the House of Representatives to also ensure fair treatment for women serving in the Peace Corps. 

Nineteen senators voted in favor of the amendment for permanent repeal of the global gag rule, including three Republicans, with 11 Senators opposing. The Shaheen amendment was cosponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Harkin (D-IA), Collins (R-ME), Murray (D-WA), Merkley (D-OR), Tester (D-MT), Feinstein (D-CA), Begich (D-AK), Coons (D-DE), Durbin (D-IL) and Kirk (R-IL). Twenty-five senators voted in favor of the overall Senate bill, including nine Republicans, with five opposing.

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Background on the Global Gag Rule

  • Separate and permanent U.S. foreign assistance laws already restrict funding for abortions overseas. The global gag rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) goes a step further by preventing any organization receiving U.S. international family planning funds from providing abortion counseling, referrals, or services or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with their own money. 
  • In practice, this means that means a doctor would be barred not only from providing abortion services, but from referring women to alternate providers or even counseling women on their full range of reproductive health options.
  • The rule was first put into place by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Since then, it has been in place during Republican presidencies, and repealed during Democratic ones. It's not in place right now, but it will likely be back if we elect another Republican president.

Background on Peace Corps Health Care Coverage

  • Since 1979, annual appropriations acts have prohibited the Peace Corps from covering abortion services for its volunteers and trainees, even in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. A small technical fix to this policy would clarify that Peace Corps volunteers and trainees should be able to access abortion in these cases, consistent with other areas of federal law.  President Obama also proposed this fix in his FY14 and FY15 budget proposals. 
  • Women comprise 63 percent of all Peace Corps volunteers, yet have been left behind in access to health care. According to internal Peace Corps statistics, there were hundreds of rapes, attempted rapes, and major sexual assaults perpetrated against Peace Corps volunteers between 2000 and 2009.
  • The Peace Corps is currently one of the only areas of the federal government where women are denied coverage for abortion in all cases, including rape, incest and life endangerment. There is no rational basis for denying Peace Corps volunteers and trainees access to safe and legal abortion under these circumstances, a benefit that is extended to federal employees — including the Peace Corps employees who work with these volunteers.
  • Last year, the late Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Peace Corps Equity Act, which would extend to Peace Corps volunteers the same coverage for abortion services that most other women with federal health care already receive.  Senator Shaheen has led this effort in the Senate since his passing and reintroduced the bill earlier this year (S. 2291). Rep. Lowey (D-NY) sponsors the Peace Corps Equity Act in the House (HR 4578).