The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted on Tuesday in favor of an amendment that would give abortion coverage to Peace Corps volunteers who are raped.
Until now, women in the Peace Corps, who have federal health insurance, have had to pay for abortions out-of-pocket.
Abortion is not covered under federal health plans, but there are typically exceptions - widely supported by the public - for when the life of the mother is in danger, rape or incest. These exceptions apply to federal employees, military service members and even female prisoners. But until now, Peace Corps volunteers have not been eligible for the coverage. The amendment would change that, and provide coverage in all three types of cases.
While the bill still needs to go through a full vote in the House and Senate, the appropriations committee was a critical hurdle.
The committee has previously blocked the inclusion of similar proposals and passage of this measure was never certain. The proposal will now head to the full House and Senate for a vote, if they choose to take it up, and then, if it passes, to President Obama for a signature.
In an email to Fusion, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee downplayed the vote, which was conducted swiftly by what is called “voice vote.” Individual members were not required to state their position on the legislation, but simply asked to say “yea” or “nay.” That may have helped give cover to Republicans who oppose abortion.
“The type of vote in committee is the prerogative of the members at the time,” Jennifer Hing, the spokeswoman, said. “No roll call vote was requested this year.”
According to a May 2014 survey of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, nine percent of the women surveyed reported sexual assault or rape and five percent of the women said they’d had an abortion while in service. Of the 18 women who said they’d had an abortion, three said they became pregnant after a case of rape or sexual violence. Paying for an abortion out-of-pocket can be difficult because of the small stipend - around $300 per month - volunteers receive.
Women’s health advocacy groups like Ipas hailed the progress of the legislation.
“We are very excited about this vote,” Jamila Taylor, senior policy advisor for the organization, said in a phone interview. “This was an uphill battle, so we’re feeling very positive.”
It’s still unclear whether the proposal will clear Congress, but Taylor said the initial vote is a “huge win.”
“It’s still sort of up in the air, but I can say that with the full committee vote on appropriations and passing it, it is encouraging.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.