Opinion: Issa’s House hearings on contraception: Where were the women?


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Let me look at that calendar -- what year is it again? 2012? Because, if you ask the Democrats, on Capitol Hill this week it was really looking like 1991.

That was the year that an all-white, all-male Senate committee quizzed female witnesses, black and white, about sexual harassment and sexual innuendo during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings.


This week, there were no women appearing with the first panel before a House committee, which titled its hearings ‘Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State’ but that really was about the healthcare overhaul’s requirement that employers’ health insurance policies cover contraception.

The Democrats’ witness of choice -- a female Georgetown law student whose friend couldn’t get access to contraceptive treatment there because of the university’s religious affiliation, and who, evidently as a consequence, lost an ovary because of a syndrome that causes ovarian cysts -- was not permitted to testify. That, according to California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who heads the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was because she is not a member of the clergy, unlike the five men who did testify.

A letter to Democratic members from Issa’s staff explained the decision not to let the student testify; it said the hearing ‘is not about reproductive rights but about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience.’

Issa’s colleague, New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, begged to differ:

‘What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive healthcare services, including family planning.... Of course this hearing is about rights -- contraception and birth control. It’s about the fact that women want to have access to basic health services [and] family planning through their insurance plan.’

A second panel later in the day included two women chosen by Issa, both from Christian-oriented academic institutions but neither a clergy member.

The two Democratic women on the committee, Maloney and the D.C. representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, along with a male colleague, Mike Quigley of Illinois, walked out of the hearing in protest.


Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, was a member of the House during Thomas’ 1991 hearings. She and some female colleagues marched to the Senate side of Capitol Hill to demand that the all-male committee take the sexual harassment allegations seriously.

The next year, 1992 -- later called the ‘Year of the Woman’ -- Boxer was elected to the Senate, and California became the first state to have two women as its senators.

Some of that was replayed about this week’s hearings. Boxer said her 16-year-old grandson got a look at the picture of the male clergy members being sworn in and said incredulously, ‘It’s all dudes.’

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi remarked: ‘Imagine having a panel on women’s health and they don’t have any women on the panel. Duh.’

Boxer’s Washington state colleague, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who was elected in the same 1992 ‘Year of the Woman’ tide, said that ‘reading the news this morning was like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years.’

Or at least 20.



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-- Patt Morrison