WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Female Democrats in the U.S. Senate said they will push for quick action to extend the Violence Against Women Act while Republicans say the timing is suspect.
Democratic women senators said they would march to the chamber floor Thursday to demand quick action on extending the act, which would expand the financing and the reach of domestic violence programs, The New York Times reported.
There are 17 women senators, 12 of them Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has suggested he would push for a vote by the end of March.
"I am furious," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said. "We're mad, and we're tired of it."
During a closed-door Senate Republican lunch Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska warned colleagues that the party risked being painted as anti-woman with political consequences possible on Election Day, several GOP senators told the Times Wednesday.
Still, several Republicans said the timing was suspicious, given the furor surrounding the Obama administration's healthcare contraception mandate.
The Health and Human Services Department issued an interim rule mandating health insurance plans for employees of hospitals and other religiously affiliated institutions include coverage for birth control and other preventive services, raising the hackles of Catholic church leaders and members of the Republican Party.
After the policy was announced, Obama in February announced a modification to the rule, saying women will have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services, but if a women's employer objects to birth control for religious reasons, then the insurance company will be required to offer the woman contraceptive care gratis.
"I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. "You think they might have put things in there we couldn't support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?"
The legislation would maintain existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters and would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas, the Times said. It also would increase the availability of free legal assistance to domestic violence victims, extend the definition of violence to include stalking, allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.
Republicans say the measure creates new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery and fails to ensure that domestic violence grants are being well spent. Critics also said the measure dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups.
"There are lots of other issues right now that could be dealt with other than this one," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said. "I suspect there's a reason for bringing it up now."