WASHINGTON – Rep. Constance Morella has joined other women in Congress pressing for passage of legislation that would give women greater access to health research and treatment funding.
“This is now women’s history month. We’re hoping it’s going to be women’s history year,” said Morella, a Montgomery County Republican and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
The caucus is sponsoring a legislative package that includes 36 bills covering a wide range of women’s health concerns, including AIDS; breast, cervical and ovarian cancers; osteoporosis; reproductive health and family planning; insurance for domestic violence victims; and female genital mutilation.
Elizabeth Morra, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel would have to look at the package closely before commenting on whether or not Congress could fund the programs.
“We already increased this year a number of funds that benefit women’s health programs – for instance, in research for breast cancer,” Morra said.
Included in the package discussed Wednesday was a bill sponsored by Morella that would prohibit health insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence.
“Those that need the health insurance most are those who cannot afford to pay for it,” Morella said.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., stressed the importance of broad-ranging legislation for women in the conservative 104th Congress.
“Constantly, everyone wants to focus on two things with women: abortion and breasts. We just can’t get politicians out of our reproductive zones,” she said.
Schroeder said Congress wants to take every bill “back to committee and attach abortion to it,” in attempts to interfere with the “privacy zone between the woman, her family, her doctor and her religious beliefs.”
For instance, the Defense Authorization bill, which Congress passed in January, prohibits the use of funds to perform abortions in overseas military hospitals except when the mother’s life is in danger.
A bill banning “partial-birth” abortions – a rare late-term procedure usually performed only in cases of severe fetal deformity or when the mother’s life is in danger – passed Congress Wednesday and was sent to President Clinton.
Maggie Wynne, director of the House Pro-Life Caucus, responded in a telephone interview that most of Congress’ actions have come in response to steps taken by Clinton and the previous Congress to promote abortion.
“If this Congress is obsessing on abortion, it is in response to the previous Congress obsessing the other way,” Wynne said.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who will co- chair the women’s caucus next year, spoke at the press conference about the lack of medical knowledge about women’s bodies.
“If women live longer, it must be because of their hormones, not because of the health care they’re getting,” Norton said.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said: “That’s what happens when you have lack of diversity. … Most of the health care providers were men. Most of the scientists and researchers were men.”
Johnson is sponsoring a bill that would authorize $50 million to expand and coordinate federal research on osteoporosis, a bone disease related to aging.
“We want to know more about this disease. … Eighty percent of those affected are women, and it is so often an outcome of other diseases related to women,” she said.
Johnson is also sponsoring a bill to establish smoking prevention and cessation activities for women at clinics providing Women, Infant and Children services.
“We hope that this will not be controversial. It is bipartisan,” Johnson said.
Another bill backed by the caucus would prohibit female genital mutilation, which has been practiced in parts of the Middle East, North Africa and the United States. That measure, Norton said, “makes the point that the women’s caucus will press wherever we need to go, wherever we see danger to women in this country.” -30-