Women's Caucus shares concerns with first lady Group hopes to have more influence

February 24, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Lending support to women's political muscle, Hillary Rodham Clinton went to Capitol Hill yesterday to talk with prominent female lawmakers about women's health issues.

Mrs. Clinton, who is chairwoman of her husband's task force on health-care reform, said she shares the "abiding concern in a lot of issues that affect women and children and working families in America."

The female House members, who for years have raised lonely voices for more money for breast cancer research and help for battered women, could barely contain their glee at the support shown by Mrs. Clinton.

"We've been waiting for 12 years for someone in the White House to come," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo. "We have goose bumps. . . . We've been like this homeless band of women."

Mrs. Schroeder spoke at the start of a meeting with Mrs. Clinton and about 30 other members of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. Founded in 1977, the bipartisan group promotes women's rights, pushes legislation to improve the status of women and seeks to end sex discrimination in federal programs.

With the dramatic increase in the number of women in Congress -- now 47 in the House and six in the Senate -- and potentially one of the most powerful first ladies in history, the caucus is hoping to channel the new attention into growing political influence.

For one thing, the women's caucus had never had a substantive meeting with a White House official before this administration. Female lawmakers did have lunch once with Nancy Reagan, but yesterday's setting, similar to a Cabinet meeting or a congressional hearing, was dramatically different.

Even Republican women were beaming. "It's a very powerful statement to have Hillary Clinton as an ally," said Rep. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, who, with Mrs. Schroeder, is co-chairwoman of the caucus.

The lawmakers told Mrs. Clinton about the special problems that women face in the health care system. Women are more likely to have limited access to health insurance because they tend to work part-time or in small companies that don't provide health benefits.

Moreover, women's health needs differ significantly from those of men, according to the women's caucus. Breast cancer and reproductive-tract cancers require special research and services, while chronic illnesses that strike the elderly affect women more because they live longer than men.

Fifteen million women in their childbearing years have no health insurance for maternity care, and babies born to such mothers are one-third more likely to die or be seriously ill than those born to mothers with such health insurance, according to the caucus.

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