February 23rd, 2012
09:36 AM ET
2 years ago

Contraception controversy continues

Washington (CNN) - A week ago, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed a hearing organized by Republicans for featuring a panel of all male witnesses on the president's contraception policy.

On Thursday she's keeping the issue front and center and having her own event featuring a female witness the GOP barred from testifying.

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Sandra Fluke, a 24-year-old Georgetown University Law student who supports the Obama administration's policy requiring health insurers to offer birth control coverage to women who work at religiously-affiliated organizations, will be the sole witness before Pelosi's all Democratic Policy Committee.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, turned down a request last week from Democrats to have Fluke testify at his hearing, touching off a backlash from women's groups.

After the first panel featuring five male representatives from religious organizations took its place at the witness table, New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney chastised the GOP chairman, and asked, "Where are the women?"

While two women did testify on an afternoon panel, they - like the other witnesses invited by the GOP - opposed the new health care regulations.

Issa told Democrats during the hearing Fluke wasn't "appropriate or qualified" to participate because the subject was religious freedom, and not about health care or contraception.

Fluke's prepared testimony last week featured details of several fellow female students from Jesuit University who were denied contraceptive coverage because of its Catholic affiliation. One classmate of Fluke's who took birth control pills to deal with ovarian cysts, but stopped after she was denied coverage, suffered complications and doctors were forced to remove her ovary.

The Obama administration's decision to require contraception coverage by health care plans, even those offered by religiously affiliated groups that oppose birth control, has ignited a fierce and emotional debate on Capitol Hill.

Despite the backlash from leading Catholic groups that object to the policy, many Democrats believe the issue is really about women's health, not religion, and when cast in those terms they believe it will rally support in an election year.

But many Republicans argue the president's policy violates a constitutional right to religious freedom, and believe most Americans, regardless of faith, will agree that it's not the government's role to dictate what religiously affiliated groups must do.

Last week a CNN/ORC International poll demonstrated the stark division over the issue – 50% of those asked about the administration's policy disapprove, with 44% saying they approve. Democrats overwhelmingly support the policy, while Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it.

At the same time Pelosi's office announced plans for the Thursday session to debate the policy, her aides claimed that House Republicans were attempting to silence Fluke again, telling reporters that the Democratic leader's request for coverage by House-operated TV cameras was turned down.

While outside media organizations will be allowed to cover the Democratic event, House TV cameras–which regularly show congressional hearings on an internal Capitol Hill cable system–will not be.

According to Pelosi's office, the House TV operation, known as the House Recording studio, said it only covers floor debates and official committee proceedings, not unofficial sessions convened by one party. But Pelosi's office noted that numerous other hearings she chaired were covered by the House TV cameras, and was surprised by the change.

Dan Weiser, spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer's office, which oversees the House Recording Studio, told CNN the office has a long-standing policy.

"This policy has been in place for several years; it has been strictly enforced for several months. As a result, requests from both sides of the aisle have been denied," Wesier said in a written statement.

Democrats insisted the decision reversed an agreement that both parties reached several years ago to cover all events sponsored by top Congressional leaders.

Seizing on the issue, the House Democrats' campaign arm circulated an online petition Wednesday arguing the GOP was "censoring" the hearing and asked supporters to sign a petition urging House Republican leaders "to reverse their disgraceful decision."

As Pelosi's event proves, this issue is not going away any time soon. Both opponents and proponents of the president's policy have vowed to continue highlighting it.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would repeal the administration's health care regulation requiring birth control coverage.

House Speaker John Boehner, who made a rare floor speech opposing the president's position, pledged the House would take action to undo the policy, but has not specified how or when. Boehner directed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals with health care issues, to examine the policy.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify next week about her agency's budget before that committee and is expected to be peppered with questions about the HHS policy. Separately, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing early next week on constitutional issues surrounding religious liberty.

Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry introduced a bill in the House similar to Blunt's. Fortenberry's office announced Tuesday that the measure has 213 co-sponsors, including Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, and an aide told CNN she expects a majority of the House will sign onto the measure when the it returns from recess next week.

Also see:

Graham clarifies remarks on Obama's faith

New Poll: All knotted up in Michigan

Support from men and evangelicals boosts Santorum nationally

The Detroit News endorses Romney


Filed under: Congress • Health care • Nancy Pelosi • President Obama
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. diridi

    Law and Religion is totally different.....true, true, and true....Obama2012. Period.

    February 23, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  2. Dave

    This is a ridiculous issue. Anyone can choose to have birth control or not. However, why does the government have to tell religions and insurance companies to provide birth control? Everyone has a right to birth control, but why does the government have to fund it and force it on everyone? I worry about the future of freedom!

    February 23, 2012 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  3. Nothing new here

    This whole "religious persecution" is total nonsense at best.
    These Christians ought to be thankful that they are on American soil, even if this country is not 100% pure.
    If these whiny Christians were making all this noise in the Middle East....these people would not be alive to tell the tale.
    America – love it or leave it!!!! (that goes for you too, Religious Right).

    February 23, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. The GOP opens mouth and inserts foot

    There is no controversy. Women are being responsible by using contraception. After all, men are too irresponsible to use it and how many of them would willingly get a vasectomy as a means of not reproducing? Until the day men can have children, this is NOT their issue and they have no say-so in how women act responsibly. Just have insurance pay for contraceptives.

    There's no controversy.

    February 23, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  5. sonny chapman

    The Catholic Clergy has the underlying tenet that if a WOMAN has sex, she "deserves" to get pregnant as the "price" of her sin. What other view would one expect from a thousand year old institution made up of celibate old men. Women, you need to very AFRAID & VOTE !

    February 23, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  6. logicnLA

    Darryl Issa has never been about truth. He got Gray Davis recalled in California so he could run for Governor, but came up agianst Arnold. He has one agenda- his.

    February 23, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  7. usualone

    The Church operates the hospitals and universities as businesses, most like most for profit, and accordingly they should not put up roadblocks to healthcare for all their employees. If they stop receiving government money and don't hire anyone who does not follow their wishes to a t, then they can have their way. Otherwise, they should be treated as any other business.

    February 23, 2012 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  8. The Greedy Old Pigs declared class war on US!

    "Democrats are hoping, just hoping to keep a focus in this election year anywhere but on the economy, the debt and the Democratic record over the last 3 years trying unsuccessfully to deal with it."

    Wow, project much? Your GOBP deathcult is running on social issues now because they lose on the ever-improving economy, not to mention their refusal to honor the preference of three quarters of Americans for a millionaire's tax (which will improve the deficit situation). You were lying about the auto bailouts yesterday and now your here with more lies and phony mindreading.

    February 23, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  9. Alger Dave

    What we're seeing in the political landscape these days is nothing less than a fight over the heart and soul of the Republican party. Will it be a party of the 'establishment' – who want Romney in there – and who's fight is mainly fiscal (and let's face it – greed), or will it be a party of social conservatism – the evangelical right mainly – who are more concerned about social issues than financial ones? That's not to say that social conservatives aren't concerned about burgeoning government waste and deficits, but it's balanced off with social issues. Ron Paul called Santorum a 'fake' last night and in his recent ads as Romney's proxy in the fight against Santorum (because Paul has no other reason to spend money against someone he cannot beat). But the real fakes might be Romney and Paul – fiscal conservatives who are wishy washy on social issues at best, or who at worst are libertarians on social issues – something that is and should be anathema to social conservatives. Social conservatives probably should strongly consider if they'd even vote for a libertarian candidate like Paul (and somewhat like Romney, who can't be pinned down from day to day as his 'views evolve'). I certainly wouldn't, as a social conservative. So, what's it going to be Republicans? Are we going to be concerned only about our pocketbooks? Or are we concerned about things (like the poor for instance) as well?

    February 23, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  10. Debbie

    The issue will continue because it is an issue about: rights and religion. IF Issa says the issue was about "religion" then why were only a few religions represented? And IF the issue was about religious freedom it still begs the question of: not one woman. There are many religions that have women in high authority. No female Bishops on the panel. Not one woman.

    February 23, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  11. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    The US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion. At least it USED to until Obama got into the Whitehouse and the disaster known as Obamacare was wrought on the nation by the leftist Democrats. Shredding the Constitution in pursuit of their leftist agenda has become a daily event. Four more years of Obama and the Democrats and this country will look like Cuba.

    February 23, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. Nothing new here

    There is no justifiable reason for MY TAXES to be funding religious organizations and their efforts. These churches have members – how about the members of these churches paying for the upkeep of their hospitals and teaching institutions??
    The members of these churches can declare their giving and tithes on their tax returns. And they don't have to deal with dirty $$$$ from the federal government, or accept $$$$ from those that are not of their faith.
    BTW, I am NOT a Democrat.

    February 23, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  13. Boytjie

    @ Dr. Knowitall: should the collective pay for your Viagra?

    February 23, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  14. Lizzie

    The GOP .......... Posted: just have insurance pay for contraceptives. The mandate states you have to use it, if it is FREE! Free means someone is paying for it, namely you and me that PAY for insurance.

    February 23, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  15. ThinkAgain

    @Truth and yada yada: "The US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion."

    Yes, it does. It also does NOT say that your boss or anyone can impose their religious views on you. President Obama explicitly said that religious institutions are exempt from offering contraception coverage, but insurance companies must offer it to women.

    If you insist on still feeling persecuted because the rest of the world doesn't believe as you do, then you're hopeless.

    P.S. Try actually living in Cuba before you make the comparison ...

    February 23, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  16. Nothing new here

    Debbie
    You are 200% correct.
    There are many religions in this country. But the fundamentalists would like for us to pretend that these "tax-exempt" churches don't exist.
    This is why many Independent/Libertarians would like to see these tax loopholes CLOSED, esp. for the ones that scream "religious freedom" the most.

    February 23, 2012 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  17. Busted

    So the religion whose priests molested little boys is now condemming others over an issue about sex. Wasn't it Jesus who said only those free from sin should throw the first stone? I just want to make sure it's about taking the bible literally, like Santorum said.

    February 23, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  18. The Greedy Old Pigs declared class war on US!

    It's all a phony argument. Big Religion is now demanding special rights when all the US demands is that when a religious institution is involved in commerce that it comply with the same laws as everyone else involved in commerce. If Big Religion doesn't want to do that it can return to being just a church and withdraw from the world of commerce. It's really quite simple, though the GOBP deathcult blowhards want to keep things as muddy as possible.

    February 23, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  19. Thomas

    @logicnLA
    Darryl Issa has never been about truth. He got Gray Davis recalled in California so he could run for Governor, but came up against Arnold. He has one agenda- his.

    And his alone !

    @Dr Knowitall
    Get a life people. You want it, you pay for it !!!.
    Contraception is a choice, not healthcare. The "collective" does not need to pay for your frolicking.

    Next time you decide to go out frolicking for WMDs and invade another country , you pay for it !

    February 23, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  20. Anonymous

    @Truth

    27 states already mandate contraceptive coverage without incident for female employees - including Catholic run hospitals and institutions . Use your "google" and redirect your "religious freedom" complaint to those states. Mandated contraceptive coverage in those states was enacted long before President Obama ever thought to become President.

    And keep "your" religion out of my body. I am constitutionally free to determine on my own accord what faith I practice, without interference from the Pope or any other man who wants to decide otherwise what I can or can't do in my personal life - including access to birth control and/or abortion.

    See. This "religious freedom thingy" of your's works both ways.

    February 23, 2012 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. David

    CNN continues to undermine itself by publishing idiotic poll numbers. So you report 50% opposed Obama's policy? Did you forget to mention that the poll question didn't actual specify what the policy was and just said "based on what you know". Did you forget to mention that another poll showed that a majority of people didn't even properly understand the policy and thought that the policy obligated churches and other institutions to directly provide them as opposed to the insurance company. Why doesn't CNN do another poll asking "Do you oppose of favor Obama's new policy on ____" and make up something that there is no policy on. I can guarantee you that you'd get 40+% opposing something that doesn't exist simply because Obama's name was on it. Next time you do a poll, why don't you do some follow up questions on the poll to see how many people are basing their opinion on correct assumptions. This is what is wrong with the country – the ignorance of the electorate who form opinions based on finding something they hear that matches their pre-conceived notions without actually looking things up for themselves to see if it's true.

    February 23, 2012 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  22. michele

    How is it alright for President Obama to apologize for the burning of the Quran to show his support for all religions, while at the same time, here at home he has spent the past month stomping all over Catholic Organizations freedoms? The hypocritical nature of his actions would be almost laughable if it wasn't such a serious issue. The separation of church and state, that our nation was founded on. Not to mention, it is another commerce decision, similar to forcing American's to buy Healthcare, this time forcing Catholic institutions to sell products they don't beleive in or want.

    Perhaps most offensive is his attempt to turn a freedom of religion issue into a women's rights issue. The two are separate. Women should fight for reproductive rights and access to contraception if they desire it, just not by bullying the church into selling it. There are many other organzations that can and do provide these services. Planned Parenthood, non-denominational hospitals and clinics etc.

    Even if one believes this is a women's issue, to put a women's issues ahead of religious beliefs is a slippery slope that arbitrarily puts one groups interests ahead of the next. Isn't that what this country protested against when Wall Street. and the Car companies were bailed out? The continued act of "making things fair" and leveling the playing field has the opposite effect...it serves to disenfranchise others based on whomever is in powers perspective of what is right and wrong.

    February 23, 2012 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  23. The GOP opens mouth and inserts foot

    The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. President Obama brilliantly fixed the problem of churches and their mysoginistic contraception laws by saying the religious institution doesn't have to include contraception in its insurance plan, but the insurance carrier should make it available to the person. It's brilliant. Just get rid of those rabid, right-wing nutjobs that continually shred the Constitution for their own personal power plays. We need four more years of President Obama to undo all the damage done during the Bush regime and to hopefully kick out the idiots in the GOP.

    February 23, 2012 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  24. Rudy NYC

    Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    The US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion.
    ------------------
    Exactly. It also guarantees the pursuit of happiness. It also puts personal liberty on a higher pedastal than anything else. That means someone else does not have the right to impose their religious beliefs upon me. That means someone does not have the right to hold my livelihood hostage to their sense of morality. That means someone cannot forcibly indoctrinate me into their religion.

    This means that if a religious group wishes to conduct a public business, then they must serve the needs of the public, according to the law. BTW, it is already law in 28 states. But, that is neither here nor there to you. This means that if a religious groups wishes to conduct its' religious organization according to its' beliefs, then it is entitled to do so, provided they conduct themselves within the law. [ that means they cannot simply murder someone on religious grounds, for example ]

    February 23, 2012 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  25. Rudy NYC

    michele wrote:

    Even if one believes this is a women's issue, to put a women's issues ahead of religious beliefs is a slippery slope that arbitrarily puts one groups interests ahead of the next.
    --------–
    It is not a slippery slope. The US Constitution puts personal freedom and liberty above all else. It is what Libertarians are always calling for, personal freedom. No government telling them how to live their lives. That same philosophy should extend to businesses, too. I don't want my boss telling me that I cannot have health care coverage because he believes in faith healing. No thanks.

    That is where all of this leading. Dropping employer provided health care, using religion as an excuse. Sorry, but my right to privacy means mind your business.

    February 23, 2012 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
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