February 23rd, 2012
09:36 AM ET
11 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)

    Get religion out of our politics. We are a nation of laws! We govern ourselves by the U.S. Constituition. Not the Bible, Quran or Torah.

    February 23, 2012 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  2. Bessy

    Yes ! Keep it going Nancy. We, as women, cannot let this slide by.

    February 23, 2012 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  3. dave

    I can't believe the Republicans are fighting to pave the way for Sharia Law in this country. Why do they hate America so much?

    February 23, 2012 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  4. rs

    The controversy will continue for 2 reasons:
    The first is this obvious attempt by the GOP to strip women of some very fundamental rights- something a group of rich, old, white men have no business doing. Girl Scouts as a radical organization?? Please!
    Second, the GOP continues to party like it is 1860. Where women had no rights, nor blacks. Where common people had no say, and worked for pennies with no security or safety. The only people who did well in society were the rich.
    They claim to know history and honor our Constitution, but the facts are they are held spellbound by the idiot TEA Party they created, and religious fundamentalists who don't even believe in elementary science.
    The GOP is the ticket for an American Taliban. No thanks.

    February 23, 2012 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  5. Sage Sophos

    Religion and the constitution are inseparable and if someone say otherwise he/she is lying!!! what I can't really understand is "why can't we all leave the woman body alone" we have more important issues to deal with such like gas prices!

    February 23, 2012 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  6. Four and The Door

    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. Gotta give House Minority Leader Pelosi an A for effort. Still, the overwhelming issue for 2012 is still the economy, the exploding debt and how do we get out of this mess.

    February 23, 2012 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  7. 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.

    February 23, 2012 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  8. dave

    Oh wait, I know. When the Islamic people get uppity and want a part of that religious freedom the Republicans will simply change their tune and explain to us that religious freedom isn't nearly as important as being American, which of course means Christian with a little Jewish on the side. But definitely not the weird or icky religions. Religious freedom, yeah!

    February 23, 2012 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  9. Mikey

    This started as a rule to guarantee access to contraception at all businesses other than actual religious organizations (churches, temples, mosques, etc). 28 states already had such laws on the books, meaning the majority of American businesses, including hospitals and schools owned by religious organizations, were already functioning under such rules. This was not the issue until the GOP and some conservative religious groups, in an attempt to gain political advantage, turned it into an issue. Heck, both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee approved similar laws in their states as Governors.

    Rather than just having one witness who was shut out of Issa's hearing testify, it is time to have a major series of hearing regarding access to birth control. Conservatives say that low paid worker can have access to contraception at clinics, which basically means Planned Parenthood. At the same time, they are trying to defund and cripple Planned Parenthood. The eventual result is to outlaw all abortions and contraception to fulfill their 19th century notions of the place of women in society. It is time to make this a major issue in America and end this state by state, law by law assault on women's rights specifically and common sense law in general.

    February 23, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  10. Looney Libs

    Showing a picture of Pelosi is probably the most effective form of contraception!

    February 23, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. DIANA

    Why are the Republican's so obsessed with a womans body? They try the rape probe on women who want an abortion now they want don't want to give us access to control how many children we have with birth control.

    If they're so concerned with religious freedom, they should allow the Mormon's their freedom to go back and practice poligomy before it was banned and apologize to all the decendants of those who had to return the slaves back to their masters against their religious beliefs. Where were they when people protested the Mosques in New York?

    February 23, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  12. ShawnDH

    Democrats need to take this issue all the way through 2012. Tell the GOP to STOP INTERFERING IN OUR LIVES AND OUR BODIES AND GET OUT OF THE WAY OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR DOCTORS!

    February 23, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. PC

    To Dr. Knowitall... yet health insurance pays for Viagra... as you say.. you want it, pay for it

    February 23, 2012 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  14. Steve- Illinois

    This has nothing to do with religion, or women's health! It is a sham to buy votes by providing a huge voting bloc with something, for nothing! 85% of those who take the pill do so for no medical reason! Saying that this prescription should be provided for free, while insulin, high blood pressure medications, etc., which 100% of those receiving them take for major health reasons, are not mandated to be provided for free?

    Anyone who cannot see the hypocrisy in this is blind!!!

    February 23, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  15. Tea Party Dem

    newts pointing out how no lib media asked obama during the Dem primaries why he voted in favor of afterbirth fetus destruction was brilliant.

    February 23, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  16. gabriele lacrampe

    It was my understanding that this issue relates to the question whether or not an employer has to pay for contraception. Therefore, in my opinion, All employers should be held to the same standards. If the employees of religious organizations follow the same beliefs, there shouldn't be an issue since they won't use contraception. If they DO use birth control, they should have the freedom to make this choice. Wouldn't it be a type of discrimination that a religious employer doesn't have to comply with a rule that all other employers have to follow? It raises also the question of how much an employer should have the right to infringe on people's private life and their life style decisions. Isn't that also a freedom we (still) have?

    February 23, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  17. stppts

    Dr Knowitall,
    It's cheaper for the "collective" to pay for birth control than it is to pay for welfare for the thousands of children born into poverty each day.

    February 23, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  18. Four and The Door

    Really? Obama is putting government squarely in the business of Health Care...not just for seniors and the indigent, but everyone... and this is your take on it? Republicans do fight for keeping government out of the health care business. That's the way it should be. Health Care will become much more low cost, efficient and accessible if it is allowed to operate as an independent private industry.

    February 23, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    This is a fight over personal liberties and the pursuit of happiness, which should take precedent over any altruistic argument asserting freedom of religion. Religions do not have a right to impose on personal freedoms. If a religious group wishes to run a business that is not tax-exempt, then they need to understand that they must conform to the laws for conducting tax paying businesses in this country.

    It would be a dangerous precedent to allow someone the authority to impose their moral standards on their employees. Once the precedent to allow *business* run by religous groups the free hand to "follow their morals", how long will it take for the owners of private businesses to adopt a similar stance?

    How will it be before the private business owner denies various forms of health coverage to his employees on personal religious grounds? Not long. There are some out there who are already doing. What if an employer says I don't believe in doctors, rather I rely on faith healing so I'm not offering any health care coverage? We already have 28 states that have such laws on the books, laws that have been upheld in their respective state supreme courts.

    February 23, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  20. Ozzie

    The issue is contraception and women's health. The guise is religious freedom. I dare the U.S. Bishops and all those who oppose President Obama's policy to make the case why using contraceptives is a moral evil, the use of which should bar Catholics from recieving Holy Communion, since they are not in Communion with this very critical moral principle and belief of the Catholic Faith. Come on, Bishops, speak up, and stop hiding. My God, you essentially kept quiet during the our pre-emptive bombing and invasion of Iraq, which the Pope called immoral, unjust, and a defeat for humanity. Bishops, have you ever even slapped the wrists of a Republican? Do they so perfectly reflect your moral positions? Any wonder why you are seen as an arm of the republican party. And when are you ever going to publicly repent fro covering up child abuse for a half a century? You wonder why you have so littlecredibility on moral issues.

    February 23, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  21. Marie MD

    Maybe what women should start doing is stop having sex since the little blue pill is readily available and covered by medical insurance but these men politicians want to tell us what to do with our bodies and thatncontraceptives are bad.
    Of course, this will also mean that if a woman wants to be a CEO or stay home and fan herself all day the man will have to agree with her wishes.

    February 23, 2012 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  22. Nothing new here

    I would really prefer that Americans purchase their own health insurance and birth control WITHOUT all these government mandates. Fine.
    But religious instititutions are given more than enough legal protection, according to the Constitution and currents laws. All this fighting over "religious freedom" is nothing more than a last ditch attempt of the extremists in the GOP to rally the base. The base knows that they are losing the battle with gay rights, immigration, rights of minorities. These extremists know that they are heading off a cliff, and more and more people are longer buying into religious extremism and bigoted hatred.

    February 23, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  23. Anonymous

    Steve- Illinois

    This has nothing to do with religion, or women's health!

    And the purpose of providing Viagra insurance-free to men accomplishes what medically? It takes one man and one woman to conceive a child. Why all the negative focus on the woman only? Surely most men would want their "ladies" on birth control? Lot of dead-beat dads running around America these days ........ too much temptation to keep it zipped, guys?

    February 23, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  24. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    It is very clear Obama and the leftist Democrats want to drive religious organizations OUT of the CHARITABLE operation of providing healthcare, many time to the poorest people. Obamacare is so intrusive and onerous, that is what it will ultimately do to ALL healthcare providers and then of course the government will just move right in and take it over, just like it did with GM. And WALLAH, you'll now have single payer government run and controlled healthcare. The Holy grail of the leftists. Unless Obamacare is repealed, this is where the country is heading.

    February 23, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  25. Nothing new here

    I would really prefer that Americans purchase their own health insurance and birth control WITHOUT all these government mandates. Fine.
    But religious instititutions are given more than enough legal protection, according to the Constitution and currents laws. All this fighting over "religious freedom" is nothing more than a last ditch attempt of the extremists in the GOP to rally the base, and protect their own interests, whatever that may be.

    February 23, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
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