Opinion Brief

Congress' contraceptives hearing: 'Where are the women?'

The GOP-led House holds a hearing on Obama's controversial contraception compromise — and the five witnesses are all men

The White House may have compromised on a new rule requiring employers to offer copay-free coverage for contraception — offering religiously affiliated employers an exemption — but the latest conflagration in the culture wars rages on. At a hearing Thursday convened by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), five male witnesses, all religious leaders, explained why the regulation still assaults their religious beliefs. When Democrats asked Issa to invite some female witnesses, he said the debate was about religious freedom, not "reproductive rights and contraception." Before storming out, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) demanded, "Where are the women?" Was Maloney right to complain?

Obviously, women should have been invited: The committee missed the "real stories" of how this exemption affects women, law student Sandra Fluke, who was denied the chance to testify, tells The Washington Post. "My testimony would have been about women who have been affected by their policy, who have medical needs and have suffered dire consequences." It's "heartbreaking to watch" how "willing some members of our government are to play political football with women's health." "Meet Sandra Fluke: the woman you didn't hear at Congress' contraceptives hearing"

But women were invited: Sure, the five witnesses on this particular panel were all men, says Kathryn Jean Lopez at The National Review. But a second panel was also scheduled to testify, and it included two women. When Maloney and two other Democrats walked out of the hearing, they missed this testimony. "But why stick around and do your job when you can get media coverage instead?" "What a ridiculous show"

This controversy points to a larger problem: The real issue, says Jena McGregor at The Washington Post, is "the lack of women leaders" in religious institutions and theological academia. "Roman Catholic priests cannot be women," women "cannot be ordained as Orthodox Jews," and "women continue to be a minority in the academic world as well." Is it really any surprise that no female religious leaders or college presidents were on this panel? To ensure that women sit on such panels in the future, we simply need "more women [to] reach positions of influence in academia and religious institutions.""Absence of women at birth-control hearing prompts larger question"

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