So, Congress is holding a little hearing today to discuss the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, as Congress likes to do. The hearing is chaired by Darrell Issa, a Republican from my lovely home state of California. Mr. Issa is, as many of you can probably guess from his name, a dude.
For this panel on such an important political and public health topic, one might imagine that Issa would select an assortment of people to get diverse viewpoints and make sure a number of interests are represented. And that likewise, some strong minority witnesses would be put forward by the Democrats as well. After all, this is a rather sensitive and charged topic, and we want to make sure that everyone gets a fair hearing, right? Congress is supposed to represent constituents, to make sure our voices are heard.
So we can be assured that Mr. Issa set out to get a good mix of people on the panel, along with a number of strong witnesses to testify on the subject. As indeed he did!
Check out all those dudes.
Dudes know what’s up with the BC, and they know what’s good for the ladies. You definitely don’t need women testifying at a panel on whether birth control should be included in women’s health plans. After all, government is for men!
Issa felt so strongly about this that he actually excluded testimony from Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown. Because she was “not an appropriate witness.”
It was staggering to sit there and feel like this panel of men was going to talk about my health and women like me. It felt so very wrong.
Two Democrats, incensed at the exclusion of women from the hearing, actually walked out of the proceedings. Kudos to Carolyn Maloney and Eleanor Holmes Norton for standing up for what they believe in, and for drawing attention, which forced the media to cover this ridiculousness.
Issa’s trying to claim this panel is about “religious freedom,” but I don’t buy that at all. This is pretty clearly about birth control, and about the fact that some religious organizations are trying to get an exclusion to providing insurance plans that include it. Issa can smokescreen all he wants, but this hearing wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the growing controversy over reproductive rights in the United States, and his refusal to include women among the panelists or witnesses was an act of blatant contempt.
Meanwhile, we have Santorum supporter Foster Friess suggesting that people “just put aspirin between their knees” if they want contraception.
The thing about hormonal birth control is that it’s not just useful for contraception, but for the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions. It, like other medications, should be made available to patients who need it, for whatever reason, without undue fuss. That fact that 2012 has opened with such vicious attacks on reproductive rights, like mandatory ultrasound bills in multiple states, is not a good sign, and events like this are dangerous warnings of what may lie ahead for us.
I really tried not to be angry while writing this. I did. Because it’s tiring to get outraged over and over again in this endless cycle that never seems to go anywhere, and I know you're tired of it too.
Right now I feel like the tremendous gains made for women’s rights in the 20th century are being systematically hacked apart by a surge of conservatism in the United States, that we are effectively being held hostage by political extremists, and I have to confess, that makes me pretty mad.
I could leave you with something proactive here, and I will; if your Congressman was involved in this hearing, write to him and tell him your opinion on refusing to allow women to testify. If your Congressperson was one of the people responsible for assembling minority witnesses, ask why they didn’t bring forward more witnesses, including candidates who would have been stronger, like female members of the clergy. If your Congressperson was one of the people who protested the injustice of this hearing, send a thank you note.
Make no mistake, the Republicans were pretty foul today, but the Democrats really fell down on the job. And Democrats should be held accountable for that; they should have made it impossible for a witness to be excluded on a sneaky technicality. This was allegedly a hearing about religious freedom, so they should have played the game and assembled a star team of irreproachable witnesses, female members of the clergy who could have testified.
It would have been much harder for Issa to reject them from the hearing on grounds of inappropriateness. For that matter, some scientists might have been nice too, because there was considerable medical ignorance on display on Capitol Hill today.
If you're looking for more things to do other than baking bread and punching the dough with mounting rage, which is what I did, support organizations that are fighting to protect reproductive rights. Like Planned Parenthood! (If you're not already doing so.)
Because I don't wanna get mad. I wanna get even. Ultimately, I keep coming back to this: Rights and lives are on the line. And we’re holding Congressional hearings that sound like an Onion headline.