As part of House Republicans' latest efforts to roll back women's rights to pre-1960 status, an all-male Congressional panel today refused to allow a single woman to testify in favor of access to contraception at a hearing on a proposal to provide access to contraception under the federal health care law. Republicans argue that requiring even secular employers to provide contraception as part of their health-care coverage violates employers' "religious freedom" to deny health care on "moral" grounds.
Democratic senators attempted to add one female witness, a college student who planned to testify about a classmate who lost an ovary to ovarian cancer, a condition birth control pills can help prevent. However, the Republican committee chair, Darrell Issa (R-CA), said the hearing was broadly about "religious freedom," and that the student was not qualified to speak on the subject.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that by stacking the witness list to exclude any women "commits a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across the country are meaningless.”
Unswayed, Issa instead invited a panel of eight male and two female religious leaders, all opposed to contraception, to speak against the requirement. To give you a flavor: The first witness compared an employer who refused birth control to women to a Jewish deli owner who refused to serve pork---effectively equating a woman's ability to avoid pregnancy to the inability to get smoked pig parts at certain restaurants.
In response to Issa's refusal, the two female Democrats on the committee, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out of the meeting in protest. Afterward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "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."