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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.