Imagine Having a Panel on Women's Health…With No Women on the Panel

Today, House Republicans held a hearing impacting millions of American women seeking safe and affordable coverage for basic preventive health care, including contraception, where the Republican Majority refused to allow a single witness put forward by the Democratic Members of the Committee to testify. As Ranking Member Cummings (D-MD) wrote to the Republican Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the “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”:

Rather than inviting witnesses on both sides of this issue to engage in a reasoned and balanced discussion, you have constructed one of the most one-sided hearings I have ever seen, stacking it only with witnesses who agree with your position.

When my staff inquired about requesting minority witnesses for this hearing, we were informed that you would allow only one. Based on your decision, we requested as our minority witness a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student named Sandra Fluke. I believed it was critical to have at least one woman at the witness table who could discuss the repercussions that denying coverage for contraceptives has on women across this country.

In response, your staff relayed that you had decided as follows:
“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

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.

Instead of inviting Ms. Fluke to testify, your staff informed us that you planned to invite a different witness who was no longer available after being informed of your decision to limit the minority to a single witness. Compounding this insult, this afternoon you added two more witnesses of your own, in violation of Committee rules requiring three days notice for witnesses called by the majority.

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.

This is Sandra Fluke, the woman who Chairman Issa thinks is “not an appropriate witness” summarizing the testimony she would have given on the impact of denying contraceptive coverage:

These are the ‘appropriate’ witnesses the Committee heard from in their first panel:

Five men

As Leader Pelosi asked at her weekly press conference today, “where are the women on that panel?”:

You are talking about birth control; you are talking about women’s health. I firmly believe, I want to remove all doubt in anyone’s mind on where I am on this subject. This is an issue about women’s health, and I believe that women’s health should be covered in all of the insurance plans that are there.

Right now, as we gather here, in another part of the Capitol there is a hearing. Five men are testifying on women’s health. My colleague, Carolyn Maloney of New York, who is on the committee, looked down at this panel from which a woman, who was the Democratic witness, was excluded and said: “where are the women?” And that’s a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women? Where are the women on that panel?

Imagine having a panel on women’s health, and they do not have any women on the panel. Duh! What is it that men don’t understand about women’s health? And how central the issue of family planning is to that? Not just if you’re having families, but if you need various kinds of prescription drugs for your general health, which was the testimony they would have heard this morning if they had allowed a woman on the panel.

I think the fact that they did not allow a woman on the panel is symbolic of the whole debate, as to who is making these decisions about women’s health, and who should be covered. And I remind you, I think it’s [28] states have this requirement already. So this is nothing really new. More than half of the states already have it.

So this is probably a pretty good debate to have. Just think. Suppose you were, suppose you were a Christian Scientist, and you had an institution, and you said, if people work here for us, who are not Christian Scientists, or even if they are, they cannot avail themselves of any medical treatments because that’s what we believe. Would that work for you? I mean, it’s just, it’s so, shall we say, disrespectful of the contribution that, in this case, women make to the workforce. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women, I am told by all of you, [have used] birth control to determine the size and the timing of their families.

So again, it is a women’s health issue. Yes, I think that all institutions should cover and give health insurance, should cover the full range of health insurance issues for women. And I think it’s really curiouser and curiouser, that as we get further into this debate, the Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on a subject of women’s health and purposefully exclude women from the panel.

What else do you need to know about the subject? If you need to know more, tune in. I may, I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.

Watch statements from House Democrats at the hearing»