Jackie Speier boycotts contraception rule hearing

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, explains why she boycotted today’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?

Jackie Speier“I have decided to boycott the sham hearing orchestrated today by the Republican members of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to trample on the civil liberties of millions of American women who deserve coverage of their legitimate and most basic healthcare needs, including contraception.

“The Republican majority refused to allow the testimony of witnesses who represent millions of Catholics, such as myself, who fully support the Administration’s compromise on the provision of contraception. This is a sensible solution that allows religious affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities to opt-out of providing such coverage to their employees directly as long as women have access through the insurer.

“The fact that the majority failed to allow any witnesses to testify to the impact access to contraception has on the physical, spiritual and economic well being of women speaks volumes. California has had a similar rule in place for more than ten years, and that rule has been found not to violate religious freedom. Catholic institutions in California have continued to provide comprehensive health insurance to women. If the majority wishes to have an unbiased examination of this issue, I will be happy to participate.”

The New York Times has a good story today about how both sides – those who see this as a matter of religious liberty, and those who see it as a matter of women’s health – are eager to use this as a potent election-year wedge issue. That said, should a taxpayer-funded hearing be the venue for such a duel, especially if one of the duelers is denied a weapon?

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking Democrat, wrote yesterday to committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, to complain that Issa had stacked the deck for today’s hearing. Read a salient passage from that letter, after the jump…

“Rather than inviting witnesses on both sides of this issue to engage in a reasoned and balanced discussion, you have constructed one of the most one-sided hearings I have ever seen, stacking it only with witnesses who agree with your position. Earlier this week, you informed Committee Members that you had invited nine witnesses, including officials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious entities that oppose the accommodation announced last week by the Administration to allow women employees of religiously-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities to obtain coverage for contraceptive services directly through their insurance companies.

“You did not invite officials from the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, Catholics United, or a host of other Catholic groups that praised the White House for making this accommodation last week. You also failed to invite any women to testify about the negative impact that restrictive insurance coverage has on them.

“When my staff inquired about requesting minority witnesses for this hearing, we were informed that you would allow only one. Based on your decision, we requested as our minority witness a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student named Sandra Fluke. I believed it was critical to have at least one woman at the witness table who could discuss the repercussions that denying coverage for contraceptives has on women across this country.

“In response, your staff relayed that you had decided as follows: ‘As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.’

“It is inconceivable to me that you believe tomorrow’s hearing has no bearing on the reproductive rights of women. This Committee commits a massive injustice by trying to pretend that the views of millions of women across this country are meaningless, worthless, or irrelevant to this debate.

“Instead of inviting Ms. Fluke to testify, your staff informed us that you planned to invite a different witness who was no longer available after being informed of your decision to limit the minority to a single witness. Compounding this insult, this afternoon you added two more witnesses of your own, in violation of Committee rules requiring three days notice for witnesses called by the majority.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR senile columnist

    Stop invoking taxpayers at the drop of a witness list. We pay for everything governments do.

  • John W.

    All the noise about Obama’s war on the Catholic Church. Never mind that 8 of the 28 states that have contraception insurance mandates don’t even have the specific church exemption that the administration rule included from the start. And they’re not all blue states either. New Hampshire’s junior U.S. Senator, the state’s former Attorney General, attacked Obama. Then she found out what her own state’s “no exemption” policy was. As Rick Perry might say, “Oops!”

  • Publius

    I am not fond of the new Dem maneuver of boycotting or leaving your job when there is something you do not agree with. If the deck was stacked against your cause wouldn’t you attend and make sure your side was heard or at the least represented? Seems childish and unprofessional to me.

    Can some tell me when access to free contracepction became a right protected by the Constitution? Why should someone’s sex life be someone elses responsibility. If you are old enough to have sex then you are old enough to purchase your own contraception, it’s that simple.


    “That said, should a taxpayer-funded hearing be the venue for such a duel, especially if one of the duelers is denied a weapon?”

    Be careful Josh. Sarah Palin used rhetoric like that and a congresswoman got shot. As a politically correct left leaning reporter you should chose your words more carefully. You never know, some crazy bible thumpin’right winger might take those words out of context.

  • Robbins Mitchell

    Why is it that all these Democrat women in Congress insist on carrying their brains around in their panties?

  • John W.

    Re #3

    I thought the walkout was within the bounds of civility and doing their job by calling attention to the irony of a bunch of old men pontificating about a matter of particular importance to women. The Dems requested that a woman favoring their position be allowed to testify and the request was denied. I suspect, for some of these guys, the 19th Amendment is not their favorite.

    Whether or not insurance should cover contraception, with or without a government mandate, is a fair topic for debate. I have to admit that having insurance cover cheap, low-tech contraception (i.e. condoms) is debatable. However, many experts believes that doing so reduces downstream costs of pre and post-natal care from unwanted pregnancies and reduces abortions (which are not only troubling to many people but also expensive). Also, I would note that insurance generally covers vasectomies, apparently with no objection from the Catholic “red hats” or the members of this committee. Seem a bit of gender-based inconsistency.

  • Truthclubber

    If these socio-fascists (i.e., Santorum and like-minded folks) can show that preventing access to birth control reduces the Federal deficit, then I am all for it — and if they can’t (or if some contra group can show that providing access to birth control reduces the Federal deficit, by eliminating unwanted, uncared-for, and unowned mouths to feed, from here to the end of time) then I am all in favor of THAT.

  • Publius


    Do not confuse a womens right to vote with testifying in congress. The walk out is classless. Jackie “I’ll take my ball and go home” Speier could have easily stayed and participated. Grabbing a cheap headline in lieu of doing her job is anything but civil.

    People keep citing down stream costs. Yes the down stream cost will be higher if people have babies; if you expect the Government to take care of them from cradle to grave. The more the government gets involved the more things cost. Higher Education and Medicine are dominated by both the State and Federal Governments and the costs are out of control. The low income family now have to go into debt to get an education and go bankrupt when facing a medical emergency. We have to roll back the so called rights that have sprung up over the last 65 years and reduce the role of government in the life of individuals before it is too late.

    If you will pay for my contraception then shouldn’t you also pay for my in vitro fertilisation. When does it stop? If this issue is so important to women’s health then they as individuals should have no problem paying for it.