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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Peace Corps Equity Act

I do not plan for this blog to become my own personal political platform, however, given that I head to staging in four short weeks, this issue sticks out as particularly personal.

As I have been teaching Government and Society to my two Senior Humanities classes this year, I have reconnected with that Political Science major I so enjoyed while at Case. Exploring and challenging students with hot button issues has reminded me the value and important of engaging with government to ensure that it is representing my interests.

A friend, Jenea, wrote a blog two months ago entitled "Rape in the Peace Corps" in which she acknowledged the likelihood of being raped while a Peace Corps volunteer is statistically lower than the likelihood of being raped in the United States.

Despite this, if you do a google search using the same phrasing as Jenea did in titling her blog post, you get statistical information and a number of headlines from reputable news sources:
          "Peace Corps Rape Victims Still Keep Quiet" San Francisco Gate
          "For Raped Peace Corps Volunteers, Little Choice" Salon.com
          "Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out on Rape" New York Times

The Peace Corps also does a significant amount of safety and security training with volunteers and trainees. From the moment I received my invitation to serve in Lesotho, the Peace Corps was up front about the risks of serving and ways to protect myself. They provided security and risk information in the materials that came with my invitation. I had to complete an online course that focused on safety and Peace Corps policies. Last week, when I spoke to two PCVs and a staff member by phone, the staff member again went over the critical nature of following safety and security policies from the moment I being training. I am sure that one of the primary reasons the risk of being raped or sexually assaulted while serving is lower than while living at home is because of the immense amount of work the Peace Corps does to protect volunteers.

There is, however, one area that the Peace Corps is unable to protect and help volunteers in the event of a rape: pregnancy. Current federal regulation, passed shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court, prevents the otherwise all-inclusive medical coverage volunteers receive to cover termination services. I realize that not everyone who reads my rambles is likely to support termination services, but a 2013 poll done by ABC News and the Wall Street Journal, 87% of respondents felt abortion should be legal all the time, most of the time, or in cases of rape and incest. A 2012 CNN poll had similar responses, with 83% of respondents saying that abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest (margin of error +/- 3%).

The United States of America is a democracy. Our citizens have a diverse array of beliefs and opinions, and yet over 80% agree that women should be able to get an abortion in the case of rape.

Medical coverage for Peace Corps volunteers is excellent. It covers almost anything that occurs during a volunteer's training and service. If the medical care in the country of service does not meet reasonable expectations, the volunteer may be sent to a neighboring country with more advances medical care available or even to the United States of necessary.

Peace Corps is volunteerism. The Peace Corps will give me a living allowance of approximately $290 each month that I am serving. According to the Peace Corps, the should cover housing, "utilities, food, household supplies...clothing, recreation, transportation, communication expenses, and incidentals. This means, my budget for living during the two years of service is under $7000. If the Peace Corps did not also cover the cost of getting to and from Lesotho and provide such excellent medical coverage, this would not be feasible for me or for most of the other people I have met who have served or are serving. Think about it this way, most Americans my age save more for retirement than I will be surviving on during service!

At the moment, the Peace Corps is unable to provide termination services to volunteers, even in the cases of rape. Compared to others serving their country or working for the federal government, this is an incredible inequality, even more so when you consider that the average cost of an abortion in the United States is $470 or 12% of the total living allowance I will receive while volunteering. A Guttmacher Policy Review published during the summer of 2013 highlights the gradual changes in policies for women relying on the federal government for medical care:

As you can see, today Peace Corps volunteers are the only ones who can never have an abortion covered through their medical coverage, even in the cases of rape or a pregnancy that endangers their life. This is unacceptable and can only be changed by an act of Congress.

Thankfully, I live in a state where I am represented by a Senator who sees the importance of fair and reasonable coverage for Peace Corps volunteers. Senator Jeanne Shaheen continues to bring the Peace Corps Equity Act to the Senate, where unfortunately our elected officials are too busy with personal and partisan agendas to recognize the disparity in health coverage on this issue. It is acceptable and covered for all other women who rely upon the government for medical care in the case of rape and 80% of Americans agree that abortion should be legal in the case of rape, then shouldn't our representative democracy represent our viewpoint and pass this piece of legislation?

Please consider letting your Senators that you support S813 and want them to do the same. The National Peace Corps Association makes it easy here: Peace Corps Equity Act.

This post is entirely my own in design, writing, and opinion. You may take or leave it, however, please keep all comments polite in tone. 

Polling information noted above is available at PollingReport.com.


Beth said...

One last link to share on this topic:

S C said...

Up late catching up on your blog! I hope your whirlwind trip has started of well. I am amazed by the information in this particular post. You would think that in this day and age, women could get equality for reproductive rights, but it's so hard. Wow.