Last Wednesday, the Peace Corps reversed its policy on pregnant volunteers
, meaning that women who become pregnant will no longer be in jeopardy of losing their position in the corps.
Previously, the Peace Corps manual stated that a volunteer who becomes pregnant “may not continue her Peace Corps service unless she is given both medical and programmatic approval,” in part to determine whether her pregnancy “is culturally acceptable and will not impair the agency’s image.”
“It was a backwards policy,” Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check. “The exciting news is that the Peace Corps has now caught up with the 21st century and no longer presumes that if you’re pregnant, then you can’t do your job anymore.”
The policy was especially problematic given that the Peace Corps has been prohibited since 1979 from covering abortion services, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Transportation to an area where abortion is legal could be covered, but the procedure itself could not. This left volunteers who became pregnant due to rape, like Carol Clark, in an even more difficult situation.
The Peace Corps has rescinded its entire pregnancy policy, Martin says, which means that new rules on a number of pregnancy-related issues, including maternity leave and abortion coverage, could be forthcoming in the new year. In the meantime, volunteers who become pregnant will be governed by a gender-neutral policy on medical conditions in general.