The panel for this morning’s House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on birth control access.
This morning, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” The topic, as you might guess, is the recent administration decision to mandate birth control coverage.
As you might not guess, the first panel of witnesses doesn’t include a single woman. The five-person, all-male panel consists of a Roman Catholic Bishop, a Lutheran Reverend, a rabbi and two professors.
Democrats on the panel were told they were allowed only one witness. They selected a young female Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, who was going to discuss the repercussions of losing contraceptive coverage. But Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman, rejected her as “not qualified.”
When the hearing began this morning, the Democratic women on the committee walked out. Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, put out a statement blasting Issa:
It is inconceivable to me that you believe tomorrow’s hearing has no bearing on the reproductive rights of women. This Committee commits a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across this country are meaningless, worthless, or irrelevant to this debate. […]
Even if you fundamentally disagree with Ms. Fluke’s viewpoint on this matter, you should not be afraid to hear it. A hearing stacked with last-minute witnesses who offer no competing views only contributes to the perception that our Committee is fostering a circus-like atmosphere intended to further politicize this debate.
The hearing will continue well into the afternoon, with a brief lunch break. You can watch a livestream here. We’ll post more updates later.
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UPDATE: At a press briefing this morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called out Issa’s selective witness list. “What is it that men don’t understand about women’s health and how central the issue of family planning is to that?” she asked. “Where are the women? And that’s a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women. Imagine, having a panel on women’s health and then not having any women on the panel, duh!”
A committee spokeswoman reached out to me this afternoon, offering to correct the record on the witness list and rebuke Pelosi. “Rep. Pelosi is either ill informed or arrogantly dismissive of women who don’t share her views. Today’s hearing does in fact include two women, Dr. Allison Garrett of Oklahoma Christian University and Dr. Laura Champion of Calvin College Health Services.”
As I noted, it was the first panel that was woman-free. The second panel indeed has the two aforementioned women, though I will note both are testifying against the administration’s contraception policy. Also, Dr. Champion is the only one of now eleven witnesses who has any public health experience.
UPDATE 2: Though Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student, wasn’t allowed to testify today, she did speak passionately about access to birth control at the National Press Club last week. You can watch her remarks here: