If you’re interested in the voice and perspective that were silenced, read Sandra’s moving testimony or watch her deliver it at a press conference last week [the other testimony is worth a watch too, but Sandra’s starts at 23:43].
On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee continued the assault on women’s rights with yet another hearing on the no co-pay contraception rule that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in August of last year. Since this rule is well-supported by popular opinion, we can set to one side that the religious leaders are the ringleaders in the contraception circus on the Hill and focus on what made Thursday’s hearing even more outrageous: minority witness Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown Law Center, was not permitted to testify.
What does it matter anyway? Well, without Sandra, the first panel of the morning was almost comical in how clearly it manifested the utter indifference of members of the Committee to the struggles women face. That is because without Sandra, the panel was comprised of five “men of the cloth”—four of them white. There was no one to present the perspective of the people who use contraception, who need it not just to prevent unplanned pregnancy but to treat legitimate and serious health conditions, who commend the Obama administration’s commitment to women’s health, and who truly cannot afford for the Obama administration to give in to the views of a minority that is overstating the extent to which it represents the public.
But how is it that in our democratic system we could have a hearing that is so imbalanced? Why wasn’t Sandra allowed to participate? Here is where it starts to get downright hysterical. In order to be a witness at a hearing, an individual must be adequately qualified—she has to have some kind of expertise about the subject matter under discussion. Some committee members continue to insist that their objection to the HHS rule has nothing to do with their distrust of women to make decisions about their own health; instead, they try to hide their indifference to women’s needs behind concern for religion. Because their problem with the rule—and, thus, the subject of the hearing—was supposedly about the rule’s effects on freedom of religion and not its effects on women’s health (which is what Sandra was going to speak to), Sandra wasn’t qualified to testify.
Never mind that individuals of faith support the no co-pay contraception rule. Never mind that organizations don’t have consciences but people—like Sandra and every other woman who may wish to take contraception—do. Never mind that the attack on contraceptive coverage (and the healthcare reform package that it is part of) is just the latest chapter in attacks on women and on progressive initiatives that seek to make our society more equitable.
None of that matters, of course, at least not to the House Oversight Committee (and to many faith leaders, for that matter). But it matters to me, it matters to us, and it matters to you. Between the Plan B decision, the Komen debacle, the seemingly never-ending federal and state fights to maintain abortion access, and the can’t-believe-we-are-still-talking-about-this-in-2012 contraception fight, we are making our powerful voices heard, even if the bishops and the committees and anyone else try to make us hush up.