(To read part II, click here.)
On February 23rd, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee held a hearing on women's health and contraception, chaired by Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The hearing was held in response to a February 16th hearing held by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee entitled, ""Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?", convened by Rep. Darrell Issa (see here and here). The "Lines Crossed" hearing drew ire from women's rights advocates and lawmakers for its preponderance of male witnesses and neglect of women's reproductive rights.
Several lawmakers who were present at the "Lines Crossed" hearing also attended the February 23rd hearing, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland, 7th District), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York, 14th District), and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia). These lawmakers expressed disappointed that Rep. Issa had not allowed Sandra Fluke to testify on February 16th, and that the male-dominated panel neglected women's voices. Fluke, a third year student at Georgetown Law School and former president of Georgetown Students for Reproductive Justice, is an advocate for reproductive rights and contraception coverage.
At the 1:04 mark, Chairwoman Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) stressed the importance of acknowledging women's voices regarding reproductive issues.
"I want to say that the purpose of this meeting is one that I wish didn't exist. I wish that in the hearing that was held last week, the Republican majority on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would have heard from Sandra Fluke, instead of just hearing a panel of five men. Seeing that panel before her, our colleague Congresswoman Maloney put it best, asking "Where are the women?" Indeed, in this debate, nothing could be more critical than hearing the voices of our nation's women."Speaking to Ms. Fluke, Rep. Cummings also emphasized the need for women's voices in the contraception debate at the 3:49 mark.
"When Chairman Issa rejected your testimony before the Oversight Committee, he argued that his hearing was not about contraceptives and was not about women's reproductive rights. He said you are, and I quote, "a college student who appears to have become energized over this issue," and that you are not "appropriate or qualified" to testify, and that you did not have "the appropriate credentials" to appear before the committee. Obviously, everyone on this panel disagrees with him. As I sat there and listened to the chairman try to explain his position, I looked out on a panel of men. I could not help but wonder, what credentials did they have to talk about the importance of the pill to the lives of women? In my opinion, the chairman committed a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across the country are irrelevant to this debate, and that is what really offends people."Rep. Cummings pointed out that these affronts to women's reproductive rights are part of a large-scale campaign at the 6:04 mark.
"Unfortunately, last week's completely one-sided hearing was not an isolated incident. Right now, a nationwide campaign is being conducted at both the state and federal levels to outlaw many forms of commonly used contraceptives."At the 8:14 mark, Rep. Maloney reflected on the February 16th House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, lamenting the way it ignored women.
"When I took my seat at the hearing last week and I looked out at the panel, I couldn't help but ask, what is wrong with that picture? There was not one single woman on that first panel, not one, even though we were there to talk about the needs of tens of millions of American women to have access to insurance for preventive health care, including reproductive rights, including contraception. The only freedom that was being debated was the freedom to tell women that they would not have access to family planning. What is wrong with that picture? We should not need to remind our colleagues that a hundred percent of those who can have their health damaged by an unwanted pregnancy are women. A hundred percent of those who die from complications related to pregnancy are women. A hundred percent of those who give birth and plan their families are women. But, one hundred percent of those on that first panel talking about the access to family planning, the ability to plan and space your children, and basic preventive health care, there was not one single woman on that panel. What is wrong with this picture?"At the 12:29 mark, Rep. Holmes Norton insisted that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was exploiting the religious angle of the debate, to the exclusion of other voices.
"The [House Oversight and Government Reform] Committee appeared to want to exploit the religious side of the issue by excluding the only witness that the Democrats requested. Sandra Fluke was essentially defined out of last week's hearing. In defining her out of the hearing, and having a hearing about only one side of a clearly two-sided issue, the majority managed to define out most American women. The silent majority represented by Sandra Fluke was not at the table last week."Stay tuned for part II, which will discuss Fluke's testimony and the response of the far right.
To watch the hearing, visit this C-SPAN link. To read additional news and commentary, visit the following links.
Ms. Magazine: Sandra Fluke Testifies at House Democratic Steering Committee Hearing
ABC News: Contraception Controversy Continues: Meet Witness Sandra Fluke
The Maddow Blog: GOP shuts down Sandra Fluke (again)
Washington Post: Meet Sandra Fluke: The Woman You Didn't Hear at Congress' Contraceptives Hearing