House Democrats convened an unofficial hearing today to hear the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who’d been barred by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, from testifying at a hearing about contraception, health insurance and freedom of religion on Capitol Hill last week.
Democrats and women’s groups protested when Issa, saying the topic of the hearing was religious freedom, not access to birth control or women’s rights, rejected Fluke as a witness because she was not a member of the clergy.
Instead, Issa convened an interfaith panel made up only of men. During the hearing past week, Fluke sat quietly behind the witness table, an obvious display of her refusal to be silenced.
The all-male panel focused on the president’s new mandate that employers with religious affiliations must offer health insurance plans that covered birth control. But the exclusion of the woman panelist sparked backlash from women’s groups and jokes on late-night comedy shows.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi kept the issue front and center Thursday by holding her own hearing with only one witness, Sandra Fluke.
“Many women in this country are energized about this issue,” Fluke told Pelosi’s all Democratic Policy Committee. Republicans did not send any House members to today’s hearing.
Fluke’s prepared testimony included details of fellow female students at Georgetown University who’d been denied contraceptive coverage because of the university’s Catholic affiliation. Fluke said that one of her friends experienced complications stemming from ovarian cysts that could have been treated with birth control pills, and doctors were forced to remove her ovary.
Fluke, who is in her third year of law school, testified that Georgetown did not cover contraception on its health plan, which she said could cost as much as $3,000 during a student’s law school career.
“I felt not insulted for myself but for the women I wanted to represent, women who were silenced,” Fluke said.
The Obama administration’s decision to require contraception coverage by health care plans offered by religious affiliated organizations has ignited an impassioned debate in Washington. Many Democrats believe the issue is about women’s health, not religion, while many Republicans say the contraception policy violates religious freedom.
While Fluke told the committee today that “getting into Issa’s head is somewhere I do not want to go,” she affirmed that she had all the credentials needed to testify on the issue.
“I’m an American woman who uses contraception,” she said. “That makes me qualified to talk to my representatives about health care needs.”
“It’s not about church and state,” Fluke said at the end of today’s hearing. “It’s about women’s health.”
ABC News’ John Parkinson contributed to this report.