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Republicans try to block extension of services for victims of domestic violence

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Rachel Salmon
WVoN co-editor

A new row over women’s rights threatens to engulf the US legislature - this time it’s about domestic violence.

Democratic Senate members are pushing to extend the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, so that it extends funding to reach Indian tribes and rural areas.

It would increase the availability of free legal assistance, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, provide training for court staff to deal with families with a history of violence and extend programmes to cover those in same sex relationships.

It would also allow more illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to claim temporary visas, and would include same sex couples in programs for domestic violence.

Republicans have accused the Democrats of using domestic violence to extend immigration rights and say there are not enough safeguards to ensure that funding is well spent.

They also claim that extending protection to groups like same sex couples dilutes the focus on domestic violence.

Some believe the Democrats are using the bill to score political points.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama told the New York Times: “I favour 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.”

But at a private Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska reportedly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being painted as anti-women — which could spell disaster for the elections this autumn.

The row follows recent moves by Republican-controlled states like Virginia and Ohio to force women seeking abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound and, in the case of Ohio, to deny the procedure when a heartbeat was detected. 

Republicans in the Senate also tried unsuccessfully to block a measure by the Obama administration to stop employers and insurance companies refusing to cover contraceptives and other items they object to on religious or moral grounds.

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