Democrats on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee held a special hearing Thursday morning in response to the GOP’s decision to prevent women from testifying in support of an Obama administration rule requiring employers to provide birth control without additional cost sharing. The committee invited just one witness, Sandra Fluke, the third year Georgetown Law student, who House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) dismissed as an “energized” “college student” who was not “appropriate and qualified” to testify before his committee.
Democrats received over 300,000 requests for women to testify on the issue, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said during today’s hearing, and the GOP’s male-only contraception hearing was widely spoofed in the press and on late-night comedy shows. Fluke herself responded to Issa’s snub in jest, noting, “Well, I will confirm that I was energized, yes” she said to laughter from the committee, “as you can see from the reaction behind me, many women in this country are energized about this issue.” “I’m an American woman who uses contraception, so let’s start right there. That makes me qualified to talk to my elected officials about my health care needs,” she added.
In her testimony, Fluke reiterated the story of her friend who was denied contraception coverage from Georgetown, despite technically qualifying for an exception that provided students who use birth control for health reasons with the benefit, and had to undergo invasive surgery. She also highlighted the confusion such policies cause, noting that while Catholic employers may claim that their insurance plans include loopholes for women who use birth control for non-reproductive purposes, beneficiaries still interpret the policy as a blanket exclusion of reproductive health benefits. One woman, for instance, did not seek medical treatment after being raped because she believed Georgetown did not provide coverage for women’s “sexual health care”:
FLUKE: One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health.
Pelosi criticized Republicans for denying her request to have Fluke’s testimony covered by House-operated TV cameras and argued that the GOP was seeking to silence women on the issue in order to frame the discussion as a matter of religious liberty. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out, however, “if this was a hearing on prostate cancer and there was a lot of women and no men, I guarantee you men would not have stuck around.”