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.
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Behind this issue is the power struggle within the GOP. The social activists lost a lot of clout after the '08 election, and many evangelicals deserted to join the Tea Party. Now the Tea Party is losing favor with the voters and the Christian Taliban wants their troops back. The candidates are jumping on it because none of them are getting much support from the TP's, who really want Sarah Palin.
The issue itself is so much election hot air. The only reason the GOP is so rabidly opposed to this is because Obama wanted it. If we're going to have religious standards in business policy, then could a Muslim demand burkas for female employees? Businesses have the right to enforce dress codes, don't they?
Obama started this mess by sticking his nose in (once again) an issue government has no business involving itself in. In his zeal to have the government take care of people from cradle to grave he is stomping all over everyone's liberties. It is very intrusive and not welcome.
This is not a women's issue, it is a religious issue. Nobody is saying contraception should not be provided to women, what Republicans are saying is that religious institutions should not be forced to provide any to women as it goes against its core beliefs. I'm not a religious person and I'm pro-choice, but I think the Republicans have a good point here.
I do think that there should be the same number of women in favor of the bill allowed to testify. However, the person that Pelosi has targeted to testify will be testifying about other people's experiences. I don't think there is room for "a friend of a friend told me" during Congressional hearings. They need to find better witnesses, either experts or people who have had personal experiences they are willing to share.
I just hope people research and get informed about all the hate going out towards women!
Republicans and all religions will simply not be satisfied until they turn America into a complete Theocracy...
Over the last 100 years or so they have pushed to have GOD inserted into all of our court rooms, the Presidential oath of office must be performed with the president’s hand on a Bible and it must conclude with “so help me GOD” even though the Constitution does not have that phrase in it, GOD has been inserted into the pledge of allegiance to the flag, IN GOD WE TRUST on our currency, all federal and state governmental positions come with an oath on the Bible to GOD, we have a national day of prayer, congress prays before every meeting, presidents end each speech with GOD bless you and GOD bless the USA, congress has just passed a law making IN GOD WE TRUST our national motto [E Pluribus Unum has been thrown on the junk heap] nowhere is the insidious and pernicious influence of religion been more rampant and inappropriate than in the USA...
Our uninform and largely over-worked citizens remain mute in the face of this ever-growing takeover of government and government policies by religion. [i.e. Mysticism] In addition, during all of this duplicity religions rejoice because they enjoy a TAX-EXEMPT status…
Yes, indeed, America is being destroyed from within...
A True Centrist wrote:
Republicans are saying is that religious institutions should not be forced to provide any to women as it goes against its core beliefs. I'm not a religious person and I'm pro-choice, but I think the Republicans have a good point here.
I understand their argument. But, a business is not a religious institution. A house of worship is a religious institution. Beware of the next step in this altruistic argument they are making. This is the first inch. Consider the next mile.
The point is that a church doesn't have to do this. A UNIVERSITY or HOSPITAL which aren't religious institutions shouldn't be restricting health care. This is a medical decision and not religious liberty since houses of worship aren't restricted.