Democrats on the House Oversight Committee complained loudly about the Republican majority’s refusal to allow minority witnesses at a hearing on the Administration’s birth control access rules. The panel, which is happening live right now, was announced by Chairman Darrell Issa with the participation of nine panelists, all of whom oppose the new rules, including a member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a letter to Issa yesterday, ranking member Elijah Cummings objected to Issa disallowing a minority witness. Here’s an excerpt:
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.
In the end, Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was invited to testify. He will be opposed by six witnesses invited by the majority, on the second panel of the day. The majority also added additional witnesses at the last minute, making it an 11-1 stacked panel. In an opening statement, Rep. Carolyn Maloney railed against the majority for their behavior on scheduling the hearing:
What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don’t one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning. Where are the women?
Mr. Chairman, I was deeply disturbed that you rejected our request to hear from a woman, a third year student at Georgetown law school named Sandra Fluke.
She hoped to tell this Committee about a classmate of hers, who was diagnosed with a syndrome that causes ovarian cysts. Her doctor prescribed the pill to treat this disease, but her student insurance didn’t cover it. Over several months – she paid out hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, until she could no longer afford her medication. And she eventually ended up losing her ovary.
Fluke showed up at the hearing, and Maloney appealed again to have her testify. She was refused.
For his part, Cummings said in his opening statement, “In my opinion, this Committee commits a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across this country are meaningless, or worthless, or irrelevant to this debate.”
I’ll be monitoring the meeting for any notable outbursts. But the stacked deck and the lack of any women on a panel about birth control is really kind of unconscionable.