Sen. Reid Co-Sponsors Women's Health Bill

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Sen. Harry Reid and five other senators have proposed legislation to increase federal spending on women's health, family planning and contraception programs.

The bill, which was introduced last week, would also require health insurance companies to expand coverage for birth control and direct hospitals to provide emergency contraceptives to rape victims who request them.

Reid, D-Nev., said wider availability of sex education, preventive health care and birth control would reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Reid described the bill as an opportunity "to find common ground" among people who are anti-abortion and those who favor abortion rights.

But some conservative organizations were critical of the bill.

For moral reasons, some might prefer a choice of health coverage that doesn't encourage birth control, said Pia de Solenni, director of life and women's issues for the Family Research Council.

"Secondly, people treat contraceptives as a cure-all that will fix everything, and it's not," de Solenni said.

The proposed legislation would also increase funding from $278 million to $643 million for public health programs aimed at detecting breast and cervical cancers, the HIV virus and sexually transmitted diseases among women.

Reid said broadening insurance coverages for contraceptives would prove more economical for health plans that routinely cover abortions, tubal ligations and sterilizations.

"We are not asking for special treatment of contraceptives, only equitable treatment within the context of an existing prescription drug benefit," he said.

Co-sponsors include Sens. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.