WASHINGTON -- A House bill to establish a bipartisan commission on the creation of the first national women's history museum might sound pretty noncontroversial -- but it has deeply upset Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
"I rise today in opposition to this bill, because I believe ultimately this museum that will be built on the National Mall, on federal land, will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement, and pro-traditional marriage movement," Bachmann said on the House floor Wednesday ahead of a vote on the bill.
"As it's currently written," she added, "the legislation lacks the necessary safeguards to ensure the proposed museum will not become an ideological shrine to abortion that will eventually receive federal funding and a prominent spot on the National Mall."
The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), does not discuss the content of the potential museum or authorize federal funding. It simply establishes a bipartisan commission to study the possible creation of a privately funded National Women's History Museum in Washington, D.C. The commission would have 18 months to submit its recommendations to Congress; should it decide to establish such a museum, Congress would have to vote on a second bill to move forward with the plans.
Supporters of the bill note that there are museums on or near the National Mall dedicated to natural history, African art, American Indian history and culture, space exploration and aviation, and Asian art, but none dedicated to women's history. "Women's contributions to our country are largely missing from our national museums, memorials, statues and textbooks," Maloney told colleagues Wednesday. "The bill before us today seeks to finally change that."
The House passed the bill by a vote of 383 to 33 on Wednesday afternoon. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) have introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Bachmann and a few socially conservative congressmen and political groups, including the Family Research Council and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, have expressed concerns that the museum would celebrate pro-choice leaders like Margaret Sanger. Sanger established the nation's first birth control clinic, which led to the formation of Planned Parenthood. The Heritage Action Fund has also said it will score the vote in its ratings of House members.
The website of the nonprofit group trying to raise funds for the new museum does include a section about Sanger. It also includes a profile of Bachmann in an online exhibit on motherhood.
While Bachmann said she is flattered by the idea of being featured in a National Women's History Museum exhibit, she urged her colleagues to vote against the bill.
"I'm deeply concerned that any exhibit-worthy exhibits are clearly the exception and not the rule," Bachmann said. "A cursory review of the overall content already listed on the website shows an overwhelming bias towards women which fails to paint the actual picture of lives and women throughout our history."
Maloney responded by reminding colleagues that the bill does not cost taxpayers a dime or say anything about the museum's potential exhibits.
"To vote no on this bill would basically be voting no on a cost-free, no-strings-attached conversation by a bipartisan panel on the important contributions of women to this country," she said.