Some of the nation's largest insurers routinely deny life, health and other insurance coverage to women who have been beaten by their husbands, women's rights activists and a lawmaker said Thursday.
They estimated the practice has affected thousands of women and discouraged others from reporting beatings and other abuse to their doctors and the police.
Some insurers say their practices are designed in part to protect battered women and not give their attackers, who could be the beneficiaries, a financial incentive to kill the women.
Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the insurance companies to end the practice voluntarily, and said that if they did not he would introduce legislation requiring them to do so.
"These policies not only discriminate, they help perpetuate the myth that victims of domestic violence, unlike victims of other violent crimes, are somehow responsible for their injuries," said Schumer, chairman of the House criminal justice subcommittee.
Paige Nielsen, the head of the support group Domestic Violence Services in Carlisle, Pa., told of one woman who reported an attack by her husband to her doctor and a month later applied for health, life and mortgage disability insurance from State Farm Insurance.
State Farm declined to issue the policies, citing the history of domestic violence.
"They have further victimized that woman, who through no fault of her own, was battered" in a relationship, Nielsen said.
State Farm spokeswoman K.C. Eynatten said the company does not ask applicants about domestic violence, but considers it if medical records list it.
"If the individual who's applying appears to be subject to a physical risk we don't want to provide a financial incentive to the batterer, especially if it's life insurance. In most cases the batterer is also the beneficiary," she said. "You don't want to make someone profit from that."
If the woman moves away from her assailant, the company will issue the policy if she is otherwise healthy, the spokeswoman said.