A key House committee voted to require that federal employee health plans cover the cost of contraceptives for the nearly 1 million women who work for the federal government.

"Maybe it is a victory for reason," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said Thursday of the Appropriations Committee vote Wednesday evening to attach the contraceptive language to a fiscal 1999 spending bill."We framed it as an issue that shouldn't be pro-choice or pro-life. If you want to reduce abortions, how can you not cover contraceptives?" said Lowey, who has lost abortion-rights battles with a Republican-led House that has tried to limit those rights for federal workers.

The committee vote was 28-26, with three Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the legislation that would require federal health insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives in the same manner they cover other prescriptions.

Lowey said only 19 percent of federal health plans now cover all five methods of prescription contraceptives, and 10 percent cover none.