Each year four-thousand women are beaten to death by their husbands or partners.

But even that grim figure does not begin to measure the full extent of the problem. Around the country, police are called to intervene in domestic violence against 1.8 million women a year. Up to 10 times as many cases are said to go unreported.So serious is the problem that family violence sends more women to the hospital than do car accidents.

Then there's the effect on children. Where a wife is battered, children are also likely to be abused. Even without physical beatings, the emotional toll on children is enormous. Children from violent families tend to grow up to become abusers themselves.

This unhappy chain of events should prompt Congress to listen sympathetically when Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland starts pushing for four new bills she recently introduced.

The bills would authorize more than $6.2 million to ensure that battered women and their children receive help in finding shelter and in dealing with the legal system.

Such help is needed because three out of four women and children seeking emergency housing from shelters are turned away because of lack of space. Even battered women who manage to find room in a shelter must leave in as little as two weeks because of harsh time limits.

The Morella bills also would urge state courts to let battered women who become defendants present evidence of their abuse or expert testimony about abuse. In many state courts, evidence of prolonged abuse or expert testimony on its consequences are considered irrelevant in cases when a woman is brought to trial for retaliating against an abusive husband.

Congress can't spurn the Morella bills without in effect saying that society is indifferent to the damage being done to its basic unit, the family. Only by counteracting spouse abuse and its effects can Washington send the appropriate message.