Dems blast male-dominated hearing on contraception

The all-male hearing (Planned Parenthood Photo)

Religious leaders told a House panel Thursday the Obama administration was violating basic rights to religious freedom with its policies for requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to birth control coverage.

The unity of the religious leaders contrasted with the partisan divide among lawmakers on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, with Democrats saying they had been denied the ability to present witnesses who might support the government stance or speak for the rights of women to reproductive health coverage. They asked why women weren’t better represented among the 10 witnesses at the hearing.

The issue has sparked a political firestorm for the administration, with Catholics and other religious groups strongly protesting an original Health and Human Services ruling that religion-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities must include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans. The churches themselves were exempted from the requirement.

Obama last Friday modified that policy so that insurance companies, and not the organization affiliated with a church, pay for birth control costs, but that didn’t satisfy those testifying at the hearing.

Bishop William E. Lori, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, compared the ruling to a law that would force all food providers, including kosher delicatessens, to serve pork.

“Does the fact that large majorities in society, even large majorities within the protesting religious community, reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute?” he asked.

Churches played a role in the development of health care and “it is ironic that the religious organizations should have their rights crushed in the name of health care,” said Dr. Craig Mitchell, a Baptist minister and head of the ethics department at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The policy has split Catholics, a key constituency for Obama to win a second term in office,

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, told The Associated Press this week that his group would launch both legislative and court challenges to the health care mandate. Yet there are also some Catholic groups and individuals who have come out in support of the president’s approach.

They were not there at Thursday’s hearing.

“The chairman is promoting a conspiracy theory that the federal government is conducting a `war’ against religion,” the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said of committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “He has also refused to allow a minority witness to testify about the interests of women who want safe and affordable coverage for basic preventive health care, including contraception,” Cummings said of Issa.

Cummings added that a number of Catholic groups that have welcomed the administration’s efforts to find a compromise, including the Catholic Health Association, and Catholics United, were not present at the hearing.

Issa responded that the committee did accept one Democratic witness, the Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, but rejected a second person, a third-year student at Georgetown Law School named Sandra Fluke.

Issa said the student did not have the appropriate credentials to testify at a hearing focused on threats to religious freedom and not on a single aspect of the health care law.

A video of Catholic college students speaking in favor of the health care rule was put on the committee Web page.

Committee Democrats said they were told they could have only one witness, and they chose Fluke, who was prepared to speak of the consequences women face when they are denied contraceptive coverage.

“Where are the women?” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi asked when the hearing was brought up at a news conference. “The Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on women’s health and purposely exclude women from the panel, she said. “I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.”

The original witness list contained only one woman, Oklahoma Christian University senior vice president Allison Dabbs Garrett. A second woman, Calvin College medical director Dr. Laura Champion, was added shortly before the hearing.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was pushing an amendment to a highway spending bill that would allow insurance plans to opt out of the mandate on contraception coverage if they have moral objections. The White House opposes the measure.

© 2012 The Associated Press

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4 Responses to "Dems blast male-dominated hearing on contraception"

  1. Sandy Price  February 17, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I am not surprised by this top heavy group overlooking the women of America. For years, the Republican Party ran on the belief that all Republicans are White Christian straight men. It has been a popular point of view and now we see Religious leaders who are not Christian based, following along making women the scapegoats for the problems in America.

    This is not new and comes directly from Genesis. It is ingrained in the minds of many American men. Apparently making love to a fertile woman feels better than one who has protection. The sex may be better but the appearance of unwanted pregnancies cannot be overlooked.

    This problem finally has hit the core of the next election and the GOP will do anything to remove the choices women must make. We must not shun this debate and face it and take the responsibility to do what we can to stop unwanted pregnancies. Our women will again be labelled as those of us who welcome another pregnancy or be smart enough to protect ourselves against this assault from the religious right.

    Four months ago Pat Buchanan was put on suspension from MSNBC because of his opinions of African Americans and women. This morning MSNBC finally suspended him and I applaud their courage! I’ve known Pat for many years and he sees only Catholics as viable Americans. He can still be read at Lew Rockwell’s Libertarian site.

    I’m with Lawrence O’Donnell and want the final debate between American values and Christian laws. We need the final debate with Obama and Santorum and let the nation suffer the winner. We either accept Catholic laws or we Separate the Church and State guaranteeing freedoms for all Americans.

    I warned of this horrible division back in 2000 but was censored at Reader Rant. The dream of individual rights in America is only a dream because the American citizen is afraid of African Americans, Latinos and fertile women.

  2. larry  February 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Good points Sandy.

    Here’s another article that I thought had some good insight into why these religious folks have issues with contraceptives.

    http://www.alternet.org/visions/154144/why_patriarchal_men_are_utterly_petrified_of_birth_control_–_and_why_we%27ll_still_be_fighting_about_it_100_years_from_now/

  3. Sandy Price  February 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Very interesting Larry. I was absolutely delighted with my life. We had a beautiful home and a working interest in politics and I headed for a junior college to learn all about my yard and our fruit trees. This was my new life and I loved it. What I rebelled at was being a brood mare. I was part of the Mother’s club in two schools and took on the ordering of uniforms and worked on the music programs for both schools. My step son was drafted and I saw to it that he had skills that would keep him in the training camp and it did just that. He never saw action. I loved cooking and sewing and taught all the kids in our neighborhood how to swim in our pool. But my fear of getting pregnant again was a huge stress. Ray got his secretary in trouble and years later I was asked to take her as nobody wanted the responsibility. Even many years later when my ex husband was on his 5th wife, I was asked to take him on as a Hospice Patient.I gave it some thought until I remembered the fights we had and they sent him to a Naval Hospital in the Bay Area. I have some guilt about this. My life is good and my grandkids are about a good as any children and the stress is gone. The poor man was a lost cause and I feel a lot of regrets about him. I see no reason for men to be angry about their wives wanting more time with the children already born. This will puzzle me until my last day.

  4. Suzanne  February 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    You know… the whole birth control/abortion debate has no place within either religious or political spheres. It only serves to provide yet another distraction for people to get worked up over.

    Truthfully, the only place for this whole topic is between a woman and her doctor. It is a health issue, It becomes a public issue when the woman cannot support her children and the taxpayers have to pay that tab… in which case I do support programs to promote birth control among the “welfare mom” segment.

    No man should ever have a say-so in women’s health issues unless he can personally conceive and carry a baby through birth. It is scary enough going to a new gynecologist wondering if that doctor is running a hysterectomy mill. In the medical profession, as in the banking profession, there are no ethics where a fast buck is concerned.

    Forcing women to have more children than the family can logically support is a form of slavery to keep educated women out of the work force and out of competition with men, never mind the real world social mechanics. A lot of young Christian women only discover how the real world really is after marriage and children and their immature husbands have abandoned them.

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